Marathon Ironman Taper

How to taper for a Marathon, ironman or long distance triathlon race.

Having run 71 marathons all less than 3 hours I have learnt the hard way and made my fair share of mistakes! Spend a few minutes reading below could save you a disappointing race. I have been my fittest but failed to perform because I lacked confidence in easing back. When I have been not as fit & had the confidence to decide that JUST one more session would have been too much I have run a fast race. My fastest was 2:24:40 and slowest 3:01:16 the other 69 marathons were between these times.

When increasing your long run reduce your other longest mid week run. Once you feel that you find you long run easier and are recovering then increase the mid week run. When you feel you recover within 3 days of your longest run then reduce the mid week run and increase the long run. The reason is often the accumulation of combining both runs causes over-use injuries. My example is shown below.

Progressive increase from current training level.
2nd longest run of week 7 miles longest run 14 miles = 21 miles.

Progress to reduce 2nd run to 6 miles and increase long run to 15 mile = 21 miles.
Progress to increase 2nd run to 7 miles and maintain long run to 15 mile = 22 miles.
Progress to reduce 2nd run to 6 miles and increase long run to 16 mile = 22 miles.
Progress to increase 2nd run to 7 miles and maintain long run to 16 mile = 20 miles.

The above may take many weeks, months and even years. Consider what you have done before, past injuries and your recovery rates.

Your longest ever run or longest race should be 6 or at worst 4 weeks before the big day. If recovering from an injury then a tough 12-14 miles in the 6-4 weeks before will be your main key session.

The reason I say this is if you have done lots of training you will need to ease back over 6 weeks or if your training has been erratic you will may not recover in 6 weeks, you decide?

You will not recover in 3 weeks from a fatigue run! Our bodies do not recover just because we have a 7 day week. The most important long run for a marathon should be at predicted marathon heart rate. By running some of your shorter runs much slower (lower heart rate) you will be able to have the energy to run comfortably in your key long run at more even pace.

Try and find a 10 km two weeks before or after your planned last long important run; this can improve your anaerobic threshold. Run the 10km and within 10 minutes of finishing put some warm clothing on and aim to run a further 2-4 miles at marathon pace. This will help you stimulate running tired with low glycogen levels. This is far more beneficial than just another long run.

Your last MEDIUM LENGTH (Long) run should be no later than 10 days before completing 26.2 miles. The total time of this run should not be more than 30% of your predicted marathon time. (Aim for 3 hour marathon run less than 1 hour). During hard training especially when feeling tired it can take up to 7 days to recover and then another 5 days to improve from the session. This all depends on your age recovery rate and volume of training.

Three weeks before your race run 80 percent of average mileage. No junk mileage, are race specific and some easy recovery running. So if your average weekly (last 16 weeks average) 31.4 miles ONLY RUN a total of 27 miles! (Unless you have a cold or have an injury)

Key session is 50% of this week’s total 9-13 miles at marathon Heart rate.

Two weeks before run 70 percent of normal mileage. So if your average weekly (last 16 weeks average) 31.4 miles ONLY RUN a total of 22 miles!

Key session is up to 50% of this week’s total 8-11 miles at marathon Heart rate. Run this no later than10 days before your marathon. No junk mileage 2 weeks before race specific and easy running. This week is when your body will absorb the training and get ready for next weeks taper. If you fail to ease back you will NOT recover in the last 6 days before the race.

ONLY 10 minute a day with a rest day 3 days before. If you have to travel more than 3 hours (Flight/car train etc) for the marathon then have & EXTRA REST day 6 days before. Please remember that traveling is tiring and is not a rest day!!

7 DAYS BEFORE – 10 Minutes light running.
6 DAYS BEFORE – 10 minutes easy running
5 DAYS BEFORE – 22 minutes 5 days before jog 5 minutes then run marathon pace at 15 seconds a mile faster than marathon pace efforts 4 x 60 seconds with 2 minutes jog recovery between, total run time 22 minutes.
4 DAYS BEFORE – 10 minutes running with 3 x 15 seconds strides with 2 minutes recovery jog.
3 DAYS BEFORE – Total rest
2 DAYS BEFORE – 10 minutes easy running
1 DAY BEFORE – 12 minute of running. Warm up for 3 minutes then build up to marathon pace for 10 seconds repeat 4 times 3 minutes warm down.

Total time for last 6 days = 74 minutes

Have at least 200 calories and 250ml of fluid immediate after each of your taper week running. (One banana has about 100 calories and an apple 50 calories, many energy bars have 200 calories).

The biggest mistake runners make is running too long and too hard on each session race week. Think about race specific training.

The marathon is one of the few events including Ironman where you can train faster than you race!

For example even if you cut your mileage down by half race week= 21 miles plus the marathon and warm up you end up running 48 miles no wonder you struggle from 22 miles in the marathon! because at 22 miles plus the 21 miles race week you have already covered 43 miles and you are now running more than you usually do!

Try and run these easy runs at the time you will be running the race. Most marathons are usually in the mornings if not possible run earlier to get use to morning training.

Race week also continue to snack regularly and try not to put on more than a couple of pounds in weight. Do not just drink water in the days leading up to the race especially on the plane as this will mean you go to the bathroom more and get rid of some stored minerals

Nothing anaerobic in last 7 days before the race. If you have not had a test then stay below 80 % of your theoretical maximum heart rate (HR) for running. (220- Age = possible Max heart rate if you are 20 years of age then calculate 220-20 age =200 possible max HR) 80% would in theory be 160 beats per minute.

Predicted marathon pace. The speed you plan to run for 26 miles. ONLY run at marathon pace RACE WEEK for 10% of total week’s mileage for race week.

This may seem very little marathon pace running in the last 6 days. It’s only when you consider that actually race week you have run 80% of total time at marathon pace including the race itself. It’s what you do NOT DO race week and what you actually DO during the marathon that is important.

Run every day and have a complete rest day three days before.

Final marathon tips.

No junk mileage 2 weeks before race specific and easy running. To perform in the marathon at your current fitness needs a full 10 day taper hence the big decrease in time/mileage in the 14-7 days before. Last big meal 36-48 hours before then just keep snacking.

The above depends on the number of years you have already been running, ability age experience and consistency in training and the lack of injuries. A true reflection of your predictor marathon is the average miles in the 32 weeks & progression made before the marathon not the last 6 days!

There is no magic formula, 520 miles covered over 10 weeks (52 miles a week!) compared to 20 weeks (26 miles), which one is better?
Endurance takes a long time to develop so build up slowly. We are all different and often need a different approach each time based on what we have done.

The best tip I can give you is always progress for 2-4 weeks then ease back. Think about what you have already done before answering what should I do?

Avoid intervals in last 2 weeks because you are at high risk from injuries as you are reaching your peak.

A few things to think about in the last two weeks before a marathon. When carbo loading remember that extra water is stored within the carbohydrate, so you should just continue to drink the same amount of water for your hydration requirements i.e. so that your urine is very pale or slightly clear, but not clear as this could mean you are over drinking.

Monitor your urine to find your own correct individual balance. Salty or spicy foods also allow for you to hold onto water for longer, that's why they have salty and spicy foods in hot countries!
Try this in a mini taper for a “B” race to see if you benefit. For every 1g carbohydrate it will hold 4 grams of water. You may be aware that carbohydrate needs water to effectively store it.

Water is absorbed in the cooking process, so there should be no need to drink lots of water during carbohydrate loading. Had you tried to eat dried pasta or rice then you would have a problem!
It’s Ok in our experience to occasionally snack on biscuits bread and white pasta in the last 3 days. Your body will react by producing insulin, which removes glucose from your blood by topping up your glycogen stores, which can then be used for your marathon. Adding variety could actually help you absorb just a little extra for your endurance competition.

In our experience the heavier you feel the more calories you will have available for the race. Your body can ONLY store around 2,000 calories which can be easily used for energy before you switch to fats a much slower way to gain energy. Eating TOO MUCH results in excess being stored at fat and can result in a poor performance.