Custom Search

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My thoughts on taper

As I mentioned before, I tapered before the Louisiana Marathon this past week. It's the first time I really tapered, so I was curious to see how I felt. Would my legs feel fresh and energetic? Would I be chomping at the bit at the starting line?
Underneath those tights are unprepared muscles. 
Here's how my taper went and how I felt:
What I normally do: Well, this totally depends on what other races I've done in the past few days or weeks. Usually my last long long run is two weeks out; this could be 18 or 20. I drop volume just a little in the days leading up to the race, with 3 - 6 miles the day before the race. If I just ran a hard or long race, I may take the whole week leading up easy.
Taper summary: This time my last long run was 20 miles, a full three weeks out from race day, The next weeks my long runs were 14 and 12 miles. I did "easy" speed work each week, except that I skipped one week while I was sick. I decreased my total mileage to around 35 miles (down from 45 - 55) and my last week I did just 30 heading into the race.
How I felt before the race: In a made-up word, unfresh. My lack of miles and low speeds made my muscles feel unused, and each run for the last week felt like I had taken a long break. Rather than feel rested and ready, I felt stiff and uncomfortable. Less running affected my appetite, too, and I didn't feel like eating much. That would be normal, except I didn't want to head into a race hungry.
How I felt during the race: I started out with the same "unused" feeling in my muscles, as if I'd taken too many days off. But that was not the biggest problem. I think my long taper had made my body forget how to retain fuel for the finish. I hit the wall in this race, and that is NOT the norm for me, yet overall I had fueled well during the race. I just think you have to train your body to use fuel efficiently for a long distance, and my body wasn't used to this. Usually during a race I start feeling the need for fuel at very regular intervals: I start at mile 6, even though I don't feel like I need it yet, then I continue to take half-packets of GU at 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, and 22. Sometimes I'll take some at 8 instead of 22. But this race I felt like I was burning through the energy and not hanging onto any of it. Result? WALL. 7:41 instead of 7:11. And felt like I was running a 5:30. Ugh.
How I felt after the race: I am rarely sore, but I think my muscles took this one a little too seriously. I have some quad and hamstring soreness. I usually recover speedily, but this time I'm not.
What I think will work for me: No more long tapers. I will do my last long run (like 20) two weeks out, and while my regular runs will be easy, I'd rather take an extra day off instead of decreasing mileage each day. I will keep the speedwork, as I find it keeps my muscles ready for race pace. And I will NEVER take off the day before a race if I can help it; when I have it has always resulted in poor performance!
So - do you taper? If so, how long? And if you run short distances, do you still do a taper or a rest day?


  1. For my last few, I would say I taper less. For Baton Rouge, I did 20 w/ 70 total miles, 17 w/ 57 total , 13 w/ 44 total, and 26 miles before the Sat. race. (5 miles on Thurs. and 2 miles & 1 miles walk on Fri)

    previously it was more like 20, 14 , 8, race. My last program had NUMEROUS 17 milers, so that distance became easy for me and I LOVE that. (it truly makes me "consider" running multiple 22-24 milers to see if that distance becomes easy - sounds CRAZY I know....)

    In general, I have taken 2 days off of running before most races 5k-26.2, but I'm trying running more, leading up to race day. This week, I have a 5 mile race on Sat. and my schedule has me running 7-10 on Fri. I may cap it at 5 miles. It will be at a SLOW pace.

    I like the details about your taper. I find specific training info so helpful in the blog world. I like to read about training that I may want to try like - I had never even thought of using a half gel, but I may try that. Seems like the "fuel" would be more steady than my 6, 11, 16, 21, 23or24 gels. I like the idea. Do you keep the remaining half of gel, or do you carry 8 gels?

    Keep the training details coming. I'm absorbing it......

  2. I carry 4 gels, or 3 if there is one on the course, etc. I just hold the half-gel until I need it next (which, by the way, is a very sticky proposition). Taking less at a time works better for my energy levels and my tummy! Plus I find it hard to grab enough water at a water station to get a whole pack down, so half is easier.

  3. No. I don't really taper. I sorta have in the past, but that has more been due to injury/soreness than intentionally tapering.

  4. This is a great post.

    I have a pretty phenomenal coach (google Joe Burgasser) and he is so not onboard with the "standard 3-week taper" that pretty much all programs out there seem to follow. When I got my training log several weeks ago and noticed that I had a 20 miler scheduled 2 weeks out and only a gradual reduction in miles over the last 3 weeks (56, 44, and this week 46.2 which includes my marathon), I sort of freaked. "What about my 3-week taper?" I asked him. His response?

    "You read too much Runner's World. The top runners at Mammoth and and Flagstaff do not do a 3-week taper."

    Not that I'm one of those runners... lol... but his point was that he does not subscribe to that theory.

    At any rate, I feel completely fresh and rested going into my marathon on Sunday. After doing it this way and now reading your post, I feel even better mentally!

    Congrats again on a helluva race. Wow.

  5. When our squad is tapering for a big event we always keep speed in. We just have a shorter session and usually the reps are shorter in length. I'm not a big fan of tapering - it makes me lose a lot of the fire in my belly to compete.

  6. Overall, it sounds like your legs can handle a lot more than mine and some other folks. I think some people are just meant to run a lot and it doesn't bother then. I prefer a two week taper with a 20 miler 2 weeks out and then an 11 miler the following weekend and in between, my runs are slower and more relaxed than normal. I also try to take it much easier on my Thurs speed workouts and take out and serious cross training that final week so I don't have some crazy ab or arm pains on race day.

  7. I'm a bit late on reading this but glad to see it. I know the feeling- "unfresh" that you are describing. I just blame it on nerves and the stress I feel from a lack of running. I followed a similar tapering plan and I might add a little next time but not much. It's hard to find a good balance. I raced a 5k 2 weeks before my marathon and did one short 400 workout week of but that was all my "speed" work during the last 2 weeks and it didn't seem like enough! I have not quite got the tapering down yet...