Taper time

For one of these marathon competitors, life is already one long taper.

With less than three weeks to go to the Paris Marathon, those of us running the thing are starting to wind down our training. The jargon-y name for this is ‘tapering’.

The long runs are out, just as we were getting used to them and even enjoying them. Likewise, those lung-bursting speed sessions can be parked to one side. (I know how much you were enjoying those.) If your training has gone well, then the heart and lungs and legs are ready for battle by now. From here on in, it’s just a matter of keeping things ticking over – and building up some rest and recovery.

This is easier said than done. Buzzing from the energy you have in your legs after a weekend without a long run, the impulse is to start tearing around in your short runs. Hold that impulse; bottle and keep it for the Champs-Élysées on 15 April. Of course, it’s not easy to make yourself rest up, now that you’re used to the high-energy lifestyle of marathon training. If you find it hard, then remind yourself that doing the mentally hard thing is a large part of marathon running – and somehow convince yourself that sitting in to watch television is now an active part of your training.

When exactly should you start your taper? Three weeks before the race, goes the wisdom of crowds. Certainly, any long runs or hard training you do in the last two weeks risk subtracting from the store of energy at your disposal on race day.

I must admit that I did my final long run last weekend, four weeks ahead of the race. This is because I may have overtrained for last October’s Dublin Marathon – after a hard summer’s schedule of over 50 miles per week I was still doing long runs up to two weeks beforehand. Also, for my personal best time in the 2007 Paris Marathon I’m quite sure I started to taper with four weeks to go.

This week I’ll take a mile off my usual short run distance, and keep a steady pace. Next week, another mile off each time. That’ll take me to the weekend before the race – Easter weekend, when I’ll do some light running on grass back in Ireland. Then in the week leading up to the race I may go out just once or twice for 2 or 3 very gentle miles at most.

But that’s just me. You’re probably doing it another way, and perhaps I’ve misjudged it this time too. If this is your first marathon, then you’ve probably realised by now that there are lots of tips and training plans but you’ll only find what works for you by trying and learning. For the next time.

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