The Marathon – Tips to help you taper that last week and pitfalls to avoid

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As I and one of my athletes prepare to run the Boston Marathon in less than two weeks, we are thinking about all those good things we should be doing during the next, crucial 7-10 days.  As an athlete and a coach, I have experienced almost every mistake in tapering for the marathon and so now know what NOT to do.  We all have heard that good marathon-training should include a taper during those final 21 days.  Some of us still feel that they will lose crucial fitness during that time period but it’s the rest that helps your body recover from those hard training weeks you put in during get build up!  Studies have shown that your aerobic capacity doesn’t change during the taper period  As a matter of fact, a review of 50 studies on tapering published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones which were all depleted by high mileage  return to optimal ranges during a taper.  Muscle damage that occurs during sustained training is also repaired and immune function and muscle strength improve which reduces the odds you’ll catch a cold or get injured.

Below are 15 tips that we are following on our journey up to Boston and I hope they help some of you before your big day:

  1. Be lazy the 2 weeks leading up to the race – when you can sit, don’t stand, when you can lay down, don’t sit!
  2. Absolutely do not add any extra miles ~ follow your coaches schedule or if you are self coached, stick to your program even though you feel sluggish. Do not “slip in” extra workouts.  Also, eliminate or greatly reduce any strength work that you maintained during your marathon build up.
  3. Continue fueling and hydrating well right up to race day.  Eat extra carbs in the 3-4 days prior to race day to get more reserves stored for use on the big day.
  4. Review the course map – I wrote an article for Runners World on this very subject.  Check out where the water stops are so you can plan where to take your nutrition in case you don’t run with a fuel belt.  Scout out where the hills are so you can remember to run by effort, not pace and you know when the downhill is coming!  A few years ago, I studied the Boston Marathon course so well that I knew at what mile the hills were, and how long they were so I know when I would get relief!
  5. Check the weather and bring extra clothes including clothes that you can discard at the starting line. Staying warm and comfortable is very important – you don’t want to lose precious energy by shivering!  Also, consider a large plastic trash bag that you can wear to protect yourself from rain or wind.
  6. Do not eat or wear anything new!  This is not the time to try out new racing flats!
  7. Remember to “chill out” on the first half of the marathon.  You cannot bank time in the marathon.  Everyone feels great when they are tapered and rested in the first 10 miles.  Treat the marathon like 2 ten mile races followed by a 10K.  Run the first 10 miles @ or slightly below goal pace.  Then assess how you are feeling at the 10 mile mark and again at the 10k mark.  With about 6 miles left to go, you can tighten the screws a little bit if you have anything left in the tank.
  8. If conditions are hot, freezing, or blustery adjust your race plan.   Less-than-ideal conditions mean you have to adjust your time goals. Headwinds can slow your finish time by several minutes, and heat or cold by even more. A survey of marathon finish times suggests that 55 degrees is the ideal temperature, a temperature of 35 or 75 degrees adds 7 percent to your time, and an 85-degree day adds 10 percent.
  9. If you can, try to run the last 2-3 miles of the course the day before the race.  This will help you recognize certain landmarks and help you push through to the finish line knowing how close you are.
  10. Set multiple goals such as an A, B and C goal.  That way, you will feel a stronger sense of accomplishment if, for example, you miss qualifying for Boston or don’t hit that PR you were chasing.  Just finishing a marathon is a major accomplishment.
  11. Check the race Web site for suggestions on how to get to the race (car or public transportation), where the port potties are located, and where you will take your morning clothes bags.  Many larger races will take your things to the finish line for you on a point to point course.
  12. Make sure you arrive at the start early – I recommend at least an hour before you start so you have plenty of time to use the port potty and go through your warmup routine.
  13. Should you get a cramp or a side stitch, remember they usually go away if you slow down and apply pressure to the area where you feel the cramp.
  14. When you arrive at the aid stations on the course, get water or sports drink from the end of the line as it is usually less crowded.
  15. Relax and enjoy your race!  Running is just putting one foot in from of the other and following your well-rehersed race plan.  Smile at the volunteers and high five the children.  It will make the race much easier.