How to not screw up your marathon taper

For those of you running at Melbourne Marathon Festival on 13 October, congratulations on getting this far in your training.  You will mostly have gone through the tough, long preparation for the 10km, half marathon or marathon distances and are now entering (or about to enter) a taper period, to freshen you up for race day.  This is a weird and wonderful couple of weeks where many people can screw their races, so I thought it would be useful to run through five 'anti-screw up' tips with to help keep you focused and ready to roll when you get to the start line.

Here goes...

  1. Dealing with the taper: The taper is a period of time where your training will get a little lighter and you ‘freshen up’ for the race. The aim of this period is not to sit down on the couch and be lazy.  We want to keep moving, keep training but gradually reduce the intensity and volume.  This reduction is usually accompanied by strange feelings and decisions by runners. Some of the feelings I have had whilst tapering include: Feeling as though you aren’t doing enough training, feeling really fat and finding imaginary injuries everywhere. This is all pretty normal stuff. Try and embrace the reduced load on your body and use the period to plan your race day and sharpen the focus on what you need to achieve.

  2. Avoiding Injury: Your training plans will mostly have peak in volume and/ or intensity before your taper. This is unsurprisingly the point where many people get injured. This is the time to be sensible with your training and take care of your body. If you are halfway through a run and you feel something is really not right in a muscle or tendon, back off and finish the session at an easy pace. If you have stuck to your training plan, been consistent over the last few months, then you will have more to lose at this stage than you have to gain. This same principle applies to rest days. If there is a rest day on your training plan, rest. Simple. This approach requires discipline, but it is all within your control.

  3. Race day nutrition: Make sure you practice eating and drinking on your training runs, whatever you will use in the race. If you are going to use a specific brand of drink or food, use it in your last couple of long runs or race effort runs. Even holding a drink bottle feels very different if you are not used to it, so have a go and then at least if you don’t like it, you know in advance. Each of us will have different sensitivities to foods, so there is no one rule on this stuff. My general advice is to keep things simple and stick with what you know. If you like bananas, don’t get lured by marketing or what others are doing into taking a caffeine gel every km on race day. I have seen some really ridiculous ‘over gel-ing’ in these races. Your stomach won’t thank you for it.

  4. General nutrition: Particularly for those doing half marathon and marathon distances, don’t try and diet your way to the start line. Yes, you want to feel light and energetic, but you also have to have enough energy to last the whole run. It is relatively normal to put on a little bit of weight in the last few days. Have your carb loading meal two days prior, rather than the night before so you don’t feel heavy on race morning. Stick to tried and tested foods in the couple of days leading up to the race, particularly race morning. I know professional athletes who swear by a particular pizza and a beer the night before. Whatever works for you.

  5. Clothing and equipment: We all like a new purchase to make us feel good in the lead up to the race, but consider wearing what makes you feel good, feel fast but also feel most comfortable. The last thing you want is a nice big blister from the new shoes you thought would help you. Comfort makes a massive difference, particularly when you get to the uncomfortable part of your race! On race morning wear an old t-shirt or jumper over the top of your race gear when waiting at the start line. It is likely to be cold. Just before the start, take it off, chuck it over the barriers and then get running!

Taper well and good luck to everyone taking part in Melbourne Marathon on 13 October!