The Taper - Explained

The term (and practice of) "Tapering" before a race, often confuses many new marathon runners - and you can easily see why!

The whole concept seems contradictory.

From day one of training, runners are told that in order to get into sufficient shape, they need to run 3-4 times a week in the in 4-5 month build up to the Marathon,  

Then, when they have finished their last long run (anywhere between 18-22 miles) 3 weeks before the race - they're told to reduce their training significantly until the big day.

Doesn't seem right does it?

Taper Tantrums 

This reduction in training volume has a huge impact  - both on your mind and on your body,

Your body (specifically your muscles, tendons and neuromuscular system) LOVE this reduction in training.

The reduced training loads gives them a break and they can spend the "easy" 3 weeks of light training before the marathon repairing, recovering and regenerating.

Your mind however, is far less keen on the taper.

After 4-5 months of regular training, you've been giving your brain an endorphin rush up to 4 times a week. Now that your training is signifcantly lower in intensity, it's not getting that hit any more and the a pretty foul temper.

These "Taper Tantrums" are really common and express themselves in different ways for different people, but the common symptoms include:

Sadly, there's not a huge amount you can do for these symptoms, other than be aware of them and to prepare yourself for being a bit "unsettled" for a week or so.

Keeping yourself occupied can help - so going out for walks (or light jogs) can help.

Does Tapering Really Make a Difference?

Yes. It really does.

For years, even seasoned athletes failed to believe in the benefits of the taper and insisted in training hard  - to even then day before the marathon. In fact there is one story where the coach of a few USA marathon runners had to get in his car and go and collect his runners who decided to take themselves off for a marathon - the day before their marathon race! 

He caught them at mile 11 - and the dressing down they got would no doubt have been heard miles away.

Until the benefits of the Taper were actually proven, this sort of behaviour by marathon runners was fairly standard - until runners began winning races when they had enforced time off.

When runners began wining races (sometimes by huge margins) after having an enforced time off through illness, injury etc) a few weeks before the race, the importance of tapering became far better understood. Science looked into the reasons why - and the rest is history.

How Long Should You Taper For?

The length of the taper, to a certain degree, depends on how your training has gone but as a general rule your taper should ideally begin 3 weeks before the day of the marathon - after your last long run.

What's important to remember, is that the Taper doesn't mean stop training, put your feet up and eat cake all day.

The Taper period is simply a gradual reduction in training to give your muscles and body the chance to recover and repair and freshen up ready for the marathon.

If you do nothing, your nervous system and muscles go to sleep and become lazy leaving you feeling really sluggish and for want of a more sceintific term - blreuuughhhhh!

So, try to enjoy your taper (if you can) and it might be an idea to remind your friends and family that you might be in a. bit of grump for a few weeks as you try to ride the Taper Storm. Best warn them now! 

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