To anyone who hasn't run a marathon before it can be hard to explain how taking 2-3 weeks of lighter training can prepare you to be in optimal condition for race day, to an extent where you are able to out-perform anything you've been able to do in the training block. Is it magic? Probably not. Rather it's the balance of downshifting your training volume in order to allow residual fatigue that you will have been carrying and accumulating throughout the training block to fade, while at the same time maintaining the intensity you've become accustomed to. In summary then, a good taper should do two things:
It can take several or many tapers to find out what works for you, remembering the 'you' part especially, as what works for someone else might not be applicable to you. Also it may vary from block to block, depending on how it's gone. I tend to favour three weeks but maintaining a good standard of workouts throughout, and that's how it's turned out here. So far, so good. Here's how week 12 of training for the Valencia Marathon went.
A brief recovery run, easy pace, 3 miles. Strength training in the afternoon.
400 x 10, averaged around 1:24. These felt great.
My last big workout 10 days out. Something that I don't normally do (long, hard reps) but I wanted to do a workout which was quite tough, and faster than marathon pace so that hopefully I find it easier on race day. This was 3 x 2 miles at 6.00/mile pace, which I hit. 9 miles total.
Following this session I went straight to a local thermal spa and spent 90 minutes in and out of the sauna, steam room and plunge pool. I came away feeling completely refreshed.
A light strength session in the afternoon.
6 miles easy pace, with surges thrown in. About 6 hours later I went for a sports massage with a physio who is also a member of my running club and who I've seen before several times. It's always good to have a physio who understands runners. She is excellent and doing this around 9 days out is optimum in order for the body to recover and freshen up in time for the final week.
Easy parkrun pushing my son in the buggy.
10 miles with the group, 7.25/mile. Could not feel fresher or more in rhythm.
Slightly reduced strength session in the afternoon.
3 strength sessions