Tapering back in the final week

2013-02-16 00:00

NEXT weekend a record field lines up in Bulwer Street with hopes and dreams of achieving a marathon time that will secure them a seeding and qualifying time for Two Oceans or Comrades. The training is completed, but your final week, and the pacing on the day, can be a deal breaker in achieving or missing that goal.

The benefit of training comes from the rebuilding and strengthening of muscles during the rest period and not during the training itself. The taper period is an essential extension of this process. The strength and recovery gained in the final week make a significant difference to performance level: tapering delivers a powerful punch on race morning.

Most of the running in the final week will be easy sessions where the pace should be at least one minute slower per kilometre than your target marathon pace.

It is not unusual to feel a bit jaded and sluggish when training in the pre-race week. When reducing our total activity so dramatically, the body does not simply take a rest — it tends to go into hibernation. This is a pendulum-type action going from very active to overly rested.

For this reason, we feel that we are using considerable effort for the slow runs and start to wonder and worry that we may not do well in the marathon. However, this is primarily psychological and the reason we ask ourselves: “If this is how I feel running four to five kilometres easy, how on earth am I going to run a marathon almost a minute faster per kilometre?”

Do not allow this to detract from the taper. Rather put in a couple of quality sessions during the last 10 days. These will not be too hard, but sufficiently fast to get the legs flowing around a five kilometre to 21 km race pace. The final quality session for most runners would be in the first half of the last week. Very experienced runners have found some benefit in doing a faster session only 24 to 48 hours before the race start, but this is not recommended for the club athlete.

Novice marathoners or those targeting 4:30 to five hours for the event may take two to three days’ rest in the final week, whereas more experienced runners tend to have the rest two days before the race, with the Saturday a time to awaken the body. Do this with a short 20- to 30-minute jog and two to three accelerations, moving from a slow jog to a speedy three-kilometre race pace over about 80 to 100 metres. Each acceleration is followed by a walk-back recovery, and by the end your body and legs will be ready to do great things on race morning.

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