Tapering for a marathon is tricky. For those used to running regularly, and often, the idea of cutting back may seem counter-intuitive—not to mention that it is frustrating not to get your regular dose of runner’s high.
But tapering is also essential, and those last few weeks before race day are critical for getting to the TCS New York City Marathon start line as fit and fresh as possible.
To answer some of the questions runners may have before November 3, we reached out to New York Road Runners coaches to get their insights on how best to approach tapering for a marathon.
Start Tapering at Least Two Weeks Before Race Day
The typical marathon taper is around three weeks long, although taper times can vary depending on the individual runner and training plan.
According to Ben Delaney, a coach for NYRR Group Training and NYRR Virtual Training, “Runners can do two-week and four-week tapers—it just depends on your training plan. The key is sticking to your training plan.”
When in Doubt, Run Less
“The best part of entering Taper Town is that your overall volume of miles and long runs starts to decrease,” says Delaney. As Roberto Mandje, a fellow NYRR Group Training coach, puts it, “Less is often times more, and more is not necessarily more. It’s better to be 10 miles under-trained than one mile over-trained.”
Bad Last Run? Don't Sweat It
“Bad workouts happen and they do not equate to not being able to run, or finish, your marathon,” says Delaney. “Heck, you might even learn something on during that long run that unlocks a key piece to your race. So if you stumble on that last long run, take it in stride (pun intended) and keep positive and confident.”
Heather Laurel, an NYRR Virtual Training coach, also noted the importance of looking on the positive side of a bad run. “You’re so strong from all the mileage you’ve already logged that one bad run isn’t going to hurt your performance,” she says, going a step further to add, “In fact, it can mentally prepare you for marathon day; knowing you toughed it out when the going got rough should make you feel stronger on race day.”
Rest. Rest a Lot.
“Rest and sleep like it is your job,” says Delaney. “Recover, put up your feet—you have earned it.”
Mandje adds, “Taper is meant to be about recovering and absorbing the training done during your build up.”
Don’t Try Any New Workouts During Taper Time
“When you enter Taper Town, this is not the time to take your friend up on that offer to try a CrossFit or Pilates class, to do that 50-mile bike tour, or to start a 100-day burpee challenge,” recommends Delaney. “The key to your residency in Taper Town is recovery, rest, and getting race ready.”
Be Careful About Cross-Training
“I wouldn’t recommend cross-training during a taper,” Mandje said, before adding a caveat: “If you must cross-train, I would recommend a spin bike, where you can turn the legs over and get the heart rate up without any impact. The other would be the elliptical, as it more closely mimics the running biomechanics and once again offers an opportunity to get the heart rate up along with zero pounding.”
Laurel seconded that cycling was a good form of cross-training, and added that yoga and upper-body strength work well, too. “Since you’re letting your legs recover from all your training, you’ll want to avoid any exercises that are leg-heavy; don’t start squatting with 100-pound weights!” For some body-weight exercises, she suggests that “Simple lunges, squats, and iso-exercises for your glutes are fine, especially if you’ve been doing them all along. Be sure to take it very easy on all workouts during race week!”
Nothing New on Race Day Extends to Race Week
“Don’t try anything that you haven’t already tested in your training,” advises Mandje. “That includes gear (shoes/shirt/shorts) and nutrition/hydration.” As hard as it may be in a city like New York, where a runner can find food from virtually anywhere in the world, “Stick with the foods, drinks, and sports gels and hydration plan that worked during your training.” Delaney echoed Mandje’s sentiments, urging runners not try any new gear or food before the big race.
Relax, and Stay Positive
“Relax, as by the time the taper comes, the work has been done,” says Mandje. “Focus on what you can control, stay positive, and visualize the sort of race you’d like to have.”
Delaney also advises that runners should focus on the positive during taper time, and visualize how they’ll celebrate after all that hard work (and not-so-hard work during your taper) will pay off on race day. “Get your post-race plans set. It is time to eat, drink, and be merry!”