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Chicago Marathon: It's taper time!


                          Got the long run in?  Time to taper!

Congratulations, marathoner runners.  You have hopefully completed your longest run - the 20+ miler - last weekend!  While it's not time to sit on the couch just yet, it is time for the glorious taper, because the long run training is in the bag.

A taper consists of gradually reducing your training volume (although perhaps not intensity) so that you can adequately rest before your big effort.  Simply put, your taper is your current fitness level minus fatigue, which you've been running with for weeks!

The taper was really put into play because of the "Zapotek effect" where the great Czech runner Emil Zapotek was hospitalized for two weeks prior to the 1950 European games and couldn't run.  Two days after he was released, he won the 10,000 meter race by a one lap margin! 

What's not to like with the taper?  

Here are some guidelines:

  • Reduce your running volume – decrease around  25% each week for a 4-week taper, or 30% each week for a 3-week taper.
  • You may need to keep your running frequency – high training frequencies seem to be necessary to avoid detraining and/or loss of feel in highly trained athletes.  For a strong technique sport, say you're running a trail marathon, you may need to keep your 5 day/week running schedule just so you keep the "feel" for the trail.
  • Maintain or slightly increase training intensity! Maintenance of training intensity is necessary to avoid detraining, as long as reductions in other training variables allows for sufficient recovery to optimize performance.
  • Length: 4 – 28 days. Most people recommend about 3 weeks for marathon distance. Generally, more heavily trained athletes need longer taper. Men require longer taper than women generally.

Not convinced? Pete Pfitizinger said:  Better to “err on the side of tapering too much since any workout gives you far less than one percent fitness improvement, but a well-designed taper can improve race-performance much more!"  And, from Dr. Tim Noakes: "Once you decide to taper, do as little training as your mind will allow, but do that training at a fast training pace!"

Enjoy! Here are some additional benefits to the taper:

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    Maximize your training benefit
  • Minimize fatigue
  • Allows you to take advantage of work already exerted
  • Eliminates fatigue and microscopic muscle damage from hard training
  • Allows glycogen stores to top off
  • Better repair of muscles and connective tissue
  • Better economy (less fatigue equals better mechanics)
  • Full hydration easier to attain
  • Improved confidence

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