Marathon tapering tips: why the last two weeks matter

It’s tough to love the marathon taper, but it’s vital that you do it.

In 2010 – when I was working on the preparations for London 2012 – I was lucky enough to have a pep talk from the boss a few weeks before the London marathon. It may have been at least 25 miles beyond his preferred distance, but Seb Coe had once run a ‘fun’ London marathon with his Haringey club mates and gave me one killer tip: there’s not much you can do in the last few weeks to improve your performance, but there’s a lot you can do to mess it up. Actually, I’m pretty sure he used a stronger word, but you get the gist …

If I hadn’t followed this advice, and that of my marathon guru at Belgrave Harriers, Pete Marsh (a sub 2hr 20min man in his day), I’m sure I would have messed up the taper in the last three weeks and not run 2hr 56min, exactly to my race plan. I found the taper the toughest part of my training to get right.

The idea is to wind down, heal any damage and start building your reserves and strength to get to the line in Greenwich (or wherever your marathon starts) in the best possible shape. You may have had a niggle, you may not have gone as far as planned in your last long run – it was cold, you didn’t have your favourite hat on – and you think you can probably still squeeze your longest run in this weekend. Don’t. However far you went, you have now done all your long runs and it’s time to ease up.

Perversely – and marathons are perverse – the moment you take your foot off the pedal is often a form of running torture. I thought it would be a relief to accept that the hard and long yards had been run and kick back a bit, but actually it made me feel rubbish. Nerves you pounded into submission spring back into life, muscles twinge to celebrate their newfound freedom and you feel sluggish.

It’s tempting to think these aches and pains are due to a lack of training, which you are now addicted to, but just say no and stick to your schedule. I felt terrible throughout my taper: all I wanted to do was wolf down the whole aisle of sweets in my local express shop, but without the miles to burn them off I felt I was getting heavy and listless.

At times I thought that upping the miles would be the quickest fix. By that stage I was a miles junkie, desperately trying to convince myself to stray from my taper for one last hit. Thanks to great advice, and some horror stories from club mates, I managed to say no to temptations such as one cheeky last long run, or trying out the marathon fitness with a track race.

I also fought my inner marathon monkey to resist mileage substitutes such as spin classes and sweaty yoga. I felt boring; I was boring. I didn’t do anything. I wore running shoes at work, never strayed far from my foam roller and exerted as little energy as possible – unless it involved talking about the marathon.

The aim, for me at least, was to reduce the miles and fine-tune my pacing – and my mind – for the different parts of the race, and to keep busy, but it was a confusing and difficult part of the preparation. It definitely helped at moments of doubt to remember I’d already done the training that was going to dictate my finishing time. So stay calm, stay rested, and don’t screw it up now.

A two-week marathon taper schedule

Courtesy of Pete Marsh

Sun 13m steady
Mon 4m easy or rest
Tue 4×2,000m on the track (80%)
Wed 4m easy or rest
Fri 8m tempo (above race pace by 40sec a mile)
Sat rest
Sun 10m easy
Mon 4m easy or rest
Tue 2/3×2,000m on the track (steady)
Wed 4m easy
Thur 4m easy or rest
Fri rest
Sat rest (but I snuck out for a 2m jog in race gear)

Ben Hurley blogs at A longer version of this article can be found here.

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