• Helen Phillips

Time to Taper ... The Frustrated Runners Guide

I'm running Dublin Marathon in a few weeks and, whilst some of the big autumn marathons are behind us, there are still plenty of Marathons, including New York City, Rock n Roll Las Vegas, Philadelphia and Seattle in the US and Abingdon, Beachy Head and Portsmouth in the UK left to run.

So my thoughts are turning to taper and those critical final weeks of preparation after running my last long run in training on Sunday. So if you're running over the next few weeks here are my 8 Marathon Wind Down Essentials to ensure you get to the start raring to go!

1. Make sure you taper

Your training plan will start to back off it's intensity from 4 - 2 weeks out from your marathon. Make sure you follow it and don't go crazy and try to fit in one final 20 miler during 'taper'. It can feel like resting is undoing all the good work you've put in over the past few months. Relax, it won't! Tapering is essential to ensure your body is well rested, fuelled and ready to go on race day.

I often feel sluggish and out of sorts during this period. Whilst it's important to cut down your training, don't cut it out completely. If your plan had you running 3 or 4 times per week, still go out at these times, but make sure you cut your time on feet down and don't push hard. Your longest run should be 3 - 4 weeks out from race day. After that reduce by half and then half again. I always only do a 10k run, on easy terrain the week before a marathon. You don't want to strain or injure anything so close to race day!

2. Don't try to play catch up during taper

Most marathon training programmes last about 12 - 16 weeks. It's rare the person who isn't ill, doesn't get an injury or a minor niggle that needs rest or have a major life event or celebration to mark during this period. So chances are there are a few workouts or even weeks of training that you've missed.

The reduced milage taper period can look like a great opportunity to catch up on a few missed workouts. DONT! Pushing too hard in this period could result in injury or you not being fully rested on race day. Trust in your plan and your body. You got this!

3, Try something new

During taper I start to go a little crazy. Sort of fidgety from not training and pushing myself hard.

Instead of running my legs into the ground I usually turn to other forms of exercise, swimming, cycling or yoga are my go to's.

Cross training is great if you need an exercise fix during taper. But make sure you avoid anything too intense or high impact. You don't want to injure yourself or wear yourself out with another sport at the time when you should be resting up!

4. Sleep

Sleep is an essential component of recovery. When following a hard training programme I know my sleep is deeper and I sleep for longer, than when I'm not training.

It's essential that you give your body every opportunity to rest, recover and prepare during taper. So make sure you're getting at least eight hours of sleep every night. During race week you might be a bag of nerves, but really do try to get as much sleep as you can.

4. Don't Over Eat

During taper, and especially the week before your race, your milage will be dropping and so will the calories you burn each day. You need to ensure your body is well stocked with glycogen for race day, but that doesn't give you the excuse to pig out on pizza and french fries the entire month before your marathon! Instead listen to your body, and fuel it appropriately.

We've all heard about carb loading during race week. But the science says that you don't need to start 'carb loading' until about 3 days before your marathon.

So race week make sure you eat a balanced healthy diet, like you've been doing all through your training. Then 3 days before start to include more starchy carbohydrates into your meals. You really don't need to go mad. Your body will be storing more carbohydrate (in the form of glycogen) as you'll have cut down on your training, so carb loading really only needs to come from eating less protein and fat and more carbohydrate, rather than super sizing on the pasta portions!

5. Drink Water

It's always really important to start a run or race well hydrated, and especially so for a marathon. To ensure your body is well hydrated make sure you're drinking about 2 litres the day before your race. I always carry a bottle with me, and take small sips through the day.

6. Check your kit and everything you need

It’s easy to forget the simplest of things when you're nervous. I get my kit out days in advance to make sure I have everything. Make sure you've got your pre and post race snacks and water ready as well as gels or other fuel you'll be using.

And check your travel arrangements. Every single marathon I have run when I intended to get to the start by train, there have been engineering works and train cancellations. I'm not kidding! I have learned to have a Plan B and even a Plan C to cover all eventualities. This years VLM I even timed myself driving to my Plan B station (at the same time of day), so there were no surprises marathon morning!

7. And Relax

It’s easy to get consumed by pre race nerves, even if you're a seasoned marathoner. Maranoia sets in and you just feel you can't run! So take yourself out for a walk, go to the cinema, read a book, anything that isn't running related. Congratulate yourself for all the hard work you've put in to training and enjoy those moments of calm before race day.

If you're looking to tuning up your diet or training ahead of a spring marathon take a look at Eat Right for Running to learn how to eat a balanced healthy diet for running success. Having a good diet is so important for marathon training. So set yourself up for success and set up a great nutrition foundation for strong and powerful marathon training. Click here to find out more.