One of the highs of marathon training is finishing that last long run. I do my last long run 3 weeks ahead of race day, I know however that some people do it two weeks out. My longest run is 23 miles, followed the next week by 16, then 12 the next, then race day. After that you know you have done all you can do to prepare for the race, and it’s time for the next three weeks or so to scale back on the miles and ramp up your rest. While it seems like an easy task, for some crazies like myself, it can be challenging. I am so much better at the taper than I was years ago, but it can still be hard. When you are used to putting in a high number of miles and burning a tremendous amount of calories, you don’t want to back down. You also tend to feel that if you don’t continue to work hard and strive for faster and longer runs that you won’t be prepared for the marathon. The truth is however, that research shows quite the opposite. There are real benefits to the tapering weeks. Every time I come upon my tapering time, I always end up wanting to read more information about it. It helps me remember the reasons why it is important, and helps me to be sure I am doing it the right way.
The number one, and most simple reason for the taper, is that your body needs rest. Rest is just as important to a successful marathon as the grueling work of putting all of your miles in. So here a few other very important “need to know” facts about tapering that will prove just how necessary it is!
- Immune function and muscle strength improve, which makes you stronger physically and may just prevent you from catching a cold. (With 4 children, that matters to me!)
- Your muscles can actually be repaired during the taper time. So not only will they get their strength back, but any damage that has been done can be corrected before race day.
- All of to things such as enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones that are depleted from you muscles during high mileage have the ability to return to normal during your taper. This will leave your muscles ready for the race.
- Studies have also shown that tapering can result in performance improvement, even up to 3%. That 3% can mean 5-10 minutes off of a marathon.
- The rest time also gives you time to rest both mentally and emotionally. Not having to find the time for long runs and stress about what to eat can give you a break from the grueling schedule you have been on.
My biggest fear in tapering has always been loss of endurance. It has taken me years to force myself to taper the right way. Now that I have learned the importance of the correct taper, I won’t ever go back to my old ways. Remember, rest is just as important as the miles you put in!