Runners: Benefits and how to taper properly

After months of hard work, sacrifice and preparation, the big day  looms ever closer. It is around this time that fears, concerns and  doubts can start to creep in. You start to wonder if you have trained  hard enough and long enough to complete your race or the London Marathon. This anxiety can push a novice runner to make a crucial error  in thinking. With the clock running down to the Marathon they  increase their workload, in effect, trying to cram in extra miles in a  late attempt to gain extra fitness.

Don’t let this be you! It is the complete opposite of what you need to  do. These last days before the event are an absolute crucial period  for restoring and preparing the body for the onslaught to come. In the 2 to 3 weeks leading up to the marathon it is vital to reduce  your training workload and intensity gradually and progressively. This section of your training is known as tapering, and it is  critical to your success, with numerous physiological benefits. Before we address the technical reasons  why tapering works, it is important to allay some of the common emotional concerns. Of course, the prospect of the marathon feels daunting, it’s part of what makes it such a legitimate challenge. And some  amount of apprehension can actually be beneficial. In fact, psychologists have a name for it, eustress,  which literally means ‘good stress’. It is a level of concern that can help you stay focused and motivated.  But don’t let the thought of the challenge overwhelm you. Provided you are injury free, have trained  reasonably regularly and have completed at least two long runs, you should be able to complete the  course. Just follow the guidelines for tapering and stick to your game plan during the marathon, and you  should be just fine.

Why tapering is important  

Those endless hours of training have a very specific purpose. They’re all geared towards bringing about  particular outcomes in the body. Without the series of physiological adaptations that occur, you won’t be  physically prepared for the demands of a marathon. 

These adaptations include improving aerobic capacity, increasing the body’s ability to store and use glycogen, and improving the efficiency of the heart and lungs. And that’s not all; you will have strengthened  connective tissue, and increased the number of capillaries in the muscles (and thus the body’s ability to  provide oxygen to your muscles). And the chances are your running economy will have improved, your  resting heart rate will be lower, and your breathing rate at higher intensities will be more controlled. It’s really remarkable just what a transformation your body goes through. But here is the thing; much of  that adaptation occurs during your periods of rest and recovery. With the marathon so close, it is essential  that you reduce your training load sufficiently in order that your body rests and repairs sufficiently. The high mileage runs can deplete levels of muscle glycogen, essential enzymes and antioxidants. All these  levels can be restored, and damaged muscle fibers replenished during a period of suitable tapering. What is  more, slowly reducing your intensity in the last 2 to 3 weeks will help prevent overall fatigue and bolster your  immune system. The goal is to get to the start line refreshed and in optimal health, not at breaking point. Getting the tapering process right can be a tricky business. Let’s look at a few pointers that will help you get it  right. 

How to taper properly  

First, you need to know when to start tapering. Ideally, that should be 21 days before race day. It is important  to embrace the process properly.  

 Week one 

Most importantly, you need to cut back on your mileage.  The first week of your taper, cut back to 75% to 50% of  your previous weeks overall distance. At this stage, it’s still ok to run three or four times a week but cut back significantly on your longer runs. This should include cutting  your weekend run back to about 10-12 miles.  

In addition, it is time to stop high intensity runs. So, at this  point you do not do any hill repeats, hill running or sprints.  This is because you are looking to avoid any further tissue  damage that might not heal in time for race day.  

If you have been doing any strength training, it is time to cut  back on that too. There is little to be gained in terms of  strength work at this stage. As an alternative, consider a deep tissue massage. It will probably feel like a work  out in itself. And the type of massage needed to untie knots, and restore some balance in your muscles, is best  done at least a week before the marathon.  

Finally, during week one of the taper, look to increase your intake of protein. This will help repair and restore  muscle tissue. Good sources of protein that include the majority of essential amino acids include fish, Greek  yoghurt, soya beans and chia seeds.  

 Week two 

Now you should be significantly reducing your workload. Absolute maximum should be 50% of the volume of  your longest week. It might almost feel like you are cheating, but you need to slow down too. Your runs will be  run slightly slower than marathon pace and will probably feel ridiculously comfortable, and that’s fine (however, it’s good to do just a couple of miles at marathon pace during one of your runs). Believe us, your body will  thank you for this rest later.  

As a rough guide, your longer weekend run should be 8 to 10-miles, and your week days should be no more  than 4-miles. And although you are running less, try and keep your diet balanced and healthy at this point. Do  not cut back on calories. However, if you are partial to any processed foods or takeaways, look to avoid them  until after the marathon. Your body needs proper nutrition to replenish muscles at this juncture.  

You’ll need plenty of antioxidants in your diet at this stage too. They will help combat oxidative stress. Good  sources of antioxidants will include spinach, broccoli, red bell peppers, carrots, tomato based products and  avocados. Good fruit sources will include blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, to name just a few!

 Week three 

In this last week before the marathon it is time to completely wind down. Any runs you do this week should  not exceed 4-miles, and they all should be done at a  gentle pace. To stay loose, and help overcome anxiety, it is useful to do a 2-mile run 3 days and 1 day  before race day. This week is far more about restoring  the body. Focus on four key elements. How you eat,  what you drink, how you rest and how you sleep.  

Make sure you take on board an adequate amount of  carbs (but don’t try to carbo-load unless you are VERY clear on what you are doing). Go easy on the coffee,  and try not to drink alcohol if you can avoid it. Work at staying hydrated, stay off your feet as much as you can,  and sleep as much as you can. Follow those guidelines as closely as possible, and you should be good to go.  

We hope this information is useful for you. If you need advice or have any questions about our treatments, please contact us. You can find us in Mill Hill Broadway and Islington. We are always happy to help. If you like this blog, please share!

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