Why oh why do so many runners ruin their chances of achieving their best time by continuing to train hard right upto race day. For a lot of people doing a half or full marathon is a big achievement. We have often spent months on preparation, running in all weathers, training with little niggles and sometimes not going out on a Friday or Saturday night when are friends are.
Tapering correctly is very important. The more you have trained the longer the taper should be. Most people need between 2 -4 weeks. 3 weeks is my own personal favourite for a full marathon and about 10 days for a half.
When we train, and especially when we run long distances or do intense interval work, we break down our muscles. It is only when we rest and recover that our muscles rebuild themselves(with the protein we eat). Unlike professional athletes we are unable to have a couple of hours sleep and a massage in the daytime and then train again later. We have to get by with a day or two rest days per week. However after 4 - 6 months of training our muscles will need an extra boost to help them help us achieve our best on the day. By tapering correctly we will be ready to give ourselves the best chance.
Muscles are also where we store our glycogen. This is the bodies preferred method of fuel for long distance running. When we train frequently we will keep depleting this store of fuel. When we start to taper our body will adapt and learn to store a little extra in case its needed. Too much though at this stage and we convert it to fat, so don`t go overeating.
A little extra protein and a little less carbohydrate in the 1st week of tapering is a good idea, and then revert back to a normal diet. Then 2 - 3 days before the race, start to eat a little more carbs. Don`t worry if you feel a little bloated, its just that extra energy needed to get you round your run.
We also need to be mentally fresh when we get to the start line, and tapering allows us to do this. When we are physically tired we are usually mentally tired as well, so when we taper we will become more relaxed. Our bodies are repairing and so we feel better.
One unusual side effect of tapering is that we can often feel sluggish, this is normal. Afterall we are changing what our bodies have become used to doing. In your personal schedule I will usually include some short(50 - 100yds) of faster work. These work well as they remind our bodies to stay alert without putting any undue stress on it.
Tapering is important
• to give muscles time to repair
• to allow muscle to store more energy
• to feel mentally fresh on the day