Marathon Season: Tapering your Training

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Any big race requires a serious amount of training and dedication, however a little bit of rest and reeling back your mileage just before your big run is just as important.

“Tapering is extremely important,” says Dr. Steve Scharmann of McKay-Dee Sports Medicine.

“The longer the race, the longer the duration of the taper.”

Tapering is reducing your mileage and allowing your body to rest and heal before punishing it with a big race. In the case of a marathon, Scharmann says it is recommended to begin a taper around three weeks prior to the race.

“If you’ve been working for a marathon goal, training for six months or more, it means you’ve put in a lot of mileage. You’ve ramped up and now is the time to ramp down.”

The goal of a taper is recovery, from the stresses and strains of the training regimen you have been involved in. Scharmann says tapering properly helps the muscles recover and bounce back for a big race and can even help increase the immune system.

“You are better off being five percent undertrained than one percent overtrained going into a race,” he says.

“A proper tapering technique can add as much as 10-15 minutes to your finishing time in a marathon. It will also increase your enjoyment of the race, so that you aren’t toast at mile 20.”

Scharmann says tapering is more than just resting your body, however. There are nutritional aspects to be mindful of as well. “It’s recommended that you increase your protein intake during this time. It is needed for repair and recovery of the muscles,” he says.

“During the very last week before your big race you need to start increasing your carbohydrates to maximize your glycogen stores in your muscles.”

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Scharmann says the biggest thing with a good taper is reducing mileage before a big race. You should reduce your mileage about twenty percent and reduce your pace as you are running.

“You’re also eliminating all of your cross training programs,” he says. “There’s no sense in insulting your muscles to try and put on more mass during this time.”

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“This is all about recovery,” he continues. “Sometimes we underestimate the stress that training for a race the magnitude of a marathon puts on our bodies, going six months with that kind of mileage – it just takes our bodies longer to recover.

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