Now comes the time to ease up. Working harder in the last 2-3 weeks before your race (3 for full marathons, 2 weeks for half marathons) can often be counterproductive.
It is now time to slowly back off the volume and intensity of your workouts. Tapering will allow your body to repair the ongoing muscle damage inflicted throughout your months of training. Additionally, tapering allows for full replenishment of glycogen stores in your muscles and liver.
Ideally, during the first week of your taper you should only do about 80 percent of your peak mileage. Tapering can be harder than it sounds. After weeks and months of long, hard mileage you may question the efficacy of dropping back in mileage. You may head out the door for a prescribed 6 miler and mid-workout your head says, "I feel great, let’s add a few more." For once in your life, ignore that impulse to do more. Your body will thank you for it when you have allowed yourself adequate time to recover before your race.
The second week of your taper should be about 60% of your peak mileage. You still want one reasonably long workout. (11-13 miles for full marathoners, 6-7 miles for half marathoners) This will help your body remember that you are still strong enough to feel smooth and comfortable out on a long workout.
During the last week of your schedule you should put in approximately 30-40% of your peak mileage not including race day mileage. Load up on hydration during this period. Try to avoid alcohol and caffeine during this time as well.
Throughout the process of tapering you mind may try to play a few tricks on you. It is very common to want to do more. Believe that your training thus far has been sufficient. Even if you missed a few workouts here and there...making up for them now will do nothing but put you into a higher state of fatigue come race day. You may also notice a few aches and pains that you didn't notice during your peak mileage phase. Now that you are backing off mileage and intensity you'll have a little more time to think about the effects all the mileage has had on your body. Listen to your body at this point. If you need to skip a workout during the taper so be it. You're supposed to be easing up on things at this point anyways!
Remember you workouts are not the only factor that goes into your training. Work, family and life in general have a lovely way of affecting your training. If able, during your taper try to do some of following:
- Avoid new/stressful projects at work.
- Wash your hands frequently to avoid illness.
- Ensure you are getting sufficient sleep.
- Don't spend excessive amounts of time at the race expo.
- Do your sightseeing after the race if traveling.
- Find a quiet spot to visualize your race as often as possible.