Jim2's Running Page

Tapering

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8/5/03

My approach to tapering is counter to what most other runners say and do....I almost don't taper. Thus, I have avoided getting too much into the subject on these forums. When I do comment on the subject on the forums, it's usually in response to a post that indicates that someone is planning to taper 4 weeks or longer, which I feel strongly is a mistake, even for a first timer.

I think that too many marathoners taper too far. If anything, I have always done the opposite and not tapered enough. However, I think that is the better approach....it's also counter to "conventional wisdom" that says that it's better to do too little than too much during a taper. I think that is the kind of negative thinking that has contributed to the decline of the American marathoner....but we have already discussed that subject.

As examples of my approach to tapering, the following are the "tapers" that I used for the seven MCM marathons I ran in my first running life. I have included my total mileage and long runs (LR's) for the last 6 weeks before the race, where the last week was marathon week:

1983 - 45, 57 40, 40, 45, 46 miles. LR's of 17, 18, 15, 18, 13, race. First marathon - 3:47:30.

1984 - 42, 33, 46, 56, 56, 44 miles. LR's of 17, 10, 18, 20, 15, race. PR of 3:37:36.

1985 - 52, 55, 54, 60, 60, 53 miles. LR's of 18, 19, 17, 21, 16, race. PR of 3:26:29.

1986 - 31, 54, 57, 60, 60, 52 miles. LR's of 8, 21, 16, 25, 15, race. No PR - 3:28:30, but it would have been a huge PR in the 3:15-3:20 range if not for a 70 degree day.

1987 - 56, 43, 55, 61, 53, 45 miles. LR's of 18, 13, 20, 18, 15, race. No PR (3:28:08). However, the entire year was an "off" year for me.

1988 - 60, 50, 58, 62, 53, 44 miles. LR's of 20, 12, 18, 22, 15, race. PR of 3:22:37.

1989 - 62, 41, 60, 59, 55, 45 miles. LR's of 21, 13, 19, 22, 15, race. PR of 3:22:27.

As you can see, I essentially used a 2-week "taper" by simply reducing the LR the week before the marathon to the 15-16 mile range and cutting back on total mileage during the marathon week. OK, so the bottom line is that I really use a 1-week taper. :-) Thus, how can I advise others on the subject? Do I say, "do as I do?" I think not. That would be folly on this, or any other, forum. All I can really do is pass on what others recommend for a taper....and try to add my spin on it. So, here goes....

Most running gurus recommend a 3-week taper. And I think that is OK, although I would rather see more "experts" recommending a 2-week taper, which was the norm 20-30 years ago when American marathoners performed better. It was really the guidance that started me on a 2-week taper 20 years ago when I was training for my first marathon; then I added a few miles to the first week to essentially shorten it to a 1-week taper.

I don't have as much of a problem with the duration of a 3-week taper as I do with the depth of it. And, not so much with the LR reduction as with deep mileage cuts. I'm OK with the longest LR occurring 3....even 4....weeks before the marathon, although I personally prefer 2-weeks before race day. However, I do have a problem when many people, including some "experts", recommend deep cuts in mileage....like 75%, 50%, 25%....for the last 3 weeks. I think that is too deep. I would much rather see a pattern closer to 80-90%, 60-70%, 40-50%.

A side bar....in the 1983 and 1988 editions of Bob Glover's book, "The Competitive Runner's Handbook", which I used to guide my training in 1984-89, all of his marathon training schedules called for a 2-week taper. In the 1999 edition of his book, all of them call for a 3-week taper. I think that is an example of his leaning toward the "less is better" syndrome in recent years that I think is undermining the competitiveness of marathoners.

As I see it, most of today's marathon training programs are telling you to train for 16-18 weeks to prepare for a marathon, but to rest for almost the last fifth of that time! Continuously!! And to make it a heck of a lot of rest!!! Good luck if your blood is still flowing on race day.

I think it is better to work a bit harder during the last three weeks to maintain the edge that you have worked so hard to hone, while still getting enough rest to feel fresh going into race day. Walking that fine line is when "listen to your body" takes on real meaning....and you get better at it with experience.

What I won't do is recommend that anyone "taper" as shallowly as I have always done. That doesn't mean that I think I am anything special. I'm not. It's just that it is so far from the norm that I think others should decide for themselves if it makes sense for them to try it. Also, I can't say that I wouldn't have run better, faster marathons with a bit more of a taper, since I never tried it.

All of my above comments/opinions are directed primarily to the experienced marathoner. Just like in any other aspect of marathoning, a first timer, especially one who is not well experienced at racing other distances, should play it more conservatively.

Concerning a taper for a half marathon....I really don't think it is necessary for anyone, other than a first timer with little or no prior race experience, to taper more than a week for a half marathon. It's where I think the way I used to taper for marathons makes a lot of sense. Simply reduce the LSD the week before the race by a couple of miles....like from a peak of 15 miles two weeks before the race to 12-13 miles....then taper mileage during the 6 days before the race with a light tempo workout midweek. The true novice racer should probably taper for two weeks.

Well, TrackMom, you got me to talk about a subject that I have mostly avoided for 7 years on these RWOL forums because I am a bit of a maverick on the subject. ;-)

Jim2