Get Ready to Rest: It’s Time to Taper!

We ground out those long runs and now our bodies can feel it! If we weren’t tired, something might be wrong! Now this doesn’t mean sore legs and tired bodies are fun – but it doesn’t necessarily mean we should panic about race day. Second, there’s a reason why all marathon schedules suggest a period to taper– because bodies need time to rest, repair and get ready for that big race. If you’re not fully trained three weeks before the actual event, it’s not likely that running lots of miles at the last minute will improve your overall conditioning anyway. In fact, it might impair your performance. Third, tapering is the best part of the training schedule! Enjoy the free time you used to spend running, the extra sleep you’ll get at night and the big meals you need to eat. Also importantly, if your body is relaxed and rested on race day, you’ll be mentally and physically prepared for the 26-mile challenge that lies on the road ahead. But don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what a few other experts have to say about tapering. Mike Shuman, marathon veteran, in an interview I had with him several months ago, said: “A person needs at least three weeks to taper. And no cross-training such as biking or weight lifting is allowed! Your body will actually start missing the endorphins it’s used to having, and begin to crave them as a result. Rather than working out, focus instead on eating well and other pre-race preparation. The pent up frustration will pay off on race day!” Runner’s World, in an article entitled “Don’t Blow it Now,” had this to say: “Taper smart: Reduce mileage by 60 percent during race week You’re at the peak of fitness. It’s no wonder you’re desperate to pound the pavement at warp speed.” “Resist that temptation,” adds Christine Hinton, a coach in Crofton, Maryland. “Workouts break you down. Rest builds strength.” Reducing mileage and intensity lets your muscles recover; it also restores depleted levels of fuel. Do your last long run three weeks before race day, and gradually cut back each week until you’ve nixed 60 percent of your peak training mileage in the final week before the race.” Christine Luff, who writes for, advocates cutting back, not running harder and longer: “You’ll probably feel tempted to run longer and harder during this time, but you must resist the urge. You’re not going to make any fitness improvements with three weeks to go before the marathon. Try to remember: Less is more. Running less reduces your risk of injury, gives you time to rest and recover, and allows your muscles to store carbohydrates in preparation for the big race.” Jill Bruyer, author Running with Jill, in a post entitled  “A Few Running Tips,” suggests: “It may sound counterintuitive, but as the race approaches, cut back on your distance. Those last few weeks you should be running half as far as you were in the weeks leading up to the taper. Don’t run at all the two days leading up to the big race. Your body needs to recover and prepare for the marathon.” So my advice? Worry not. Rest a lot. Eat lots of good food. Enjoy the R&R. And good luck on race day! (And of course tell me how it went!)

Melinda Hinson