Tag Archives: Marathon

Some thoughts on why I believe it’s perfectly acceptable to do nothing but short runs during a 14 day marathon taper

According to the Hanson Brothers, it takes approximately 10 days to see adaptive results from a hard training session. So any challenging training within 10 days of a marathon will not produce any new benefit by race day.

Because non-injury muscle damage from harder workouts can take up to 14 days to heal, working out hard or long enough to cause that damage within 14 days of a marathon only hurts your performance since the damage may not heal in time.

Therefore you want to avoid any challenging workouts within 1.5 weeks of a marathon, and want to avoid any lengthy, damaging workouts within 2 weeks of said marathon. Basically, no long runs or max intensity speedwork within 14 days, and no speedwork within 10 days.


The big mistake most make with a taper is to take more days off than before and to reduce intensity along with reducing volume. They go too far with tapering by tapering everything about their training, instead of just the volume.

By various accounts, most who actively taper get to the line practically rusty from sudden, extreme undertraining or lack of training. You still want to train as regularly as before, just without all of the volume or any high intensity.

Of course, you don’t want the shorter runs to be TOO intense, or else you’ll do damage that won’t be repaired by race day. So the key is to do less volume, but at a greater (albeit minimally damaging) intensity than before.

Ideally, your easy running has been at a truly easy pace. If you do your regular runs at too hard of an intensity, it’s harder to to taper at a higher intensity without entering a danger zone. But then again, if your regular runs were indeed too intense, you probably have gotten injured or burned out, or been forced to take many days off, between week 1 and the taper.

The ideal intensity middle ground? Marathon pace! The Daniels’ theory is that during a single workout you can handle M-pace at up to 20% of your weekly training load. It should be a challenging but easily sustainable pace, what some would call medium or moderate intensity, and during a shorter taper run there’s no way you should get anywhere near the Daniels’ recommended 20% volume max.

If you’ve done marathon tempo runs during your training, none of your shorter M-pace taper runs should be any longer than the shortest sustained tempo run. Otherwise, a good imposed limit for any M-pace taper runs is 30 minutes.

If I have a planned mileage for a day that would take longer than 30 minutes at M-pace, I just do most of that run at an easy pace and then do 5-15 minutes of M-pace running at the end.

Jonathan Savage goes as far as to recommend that during a taper all running should be at marathon pace. That can work, though I find that approach a bit restrictive. For this taper I started by running easy with a little bit of M-pace running early in the taper as volume was still close to my typical training. Then I increased M-pace running as the race draws closer and my volume tapers to its lowest.

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What’s a good middle ground for a marathon training taper?

After today’s 20 miler, I’m officially tapering from here to Chicago.

That’s probably not a big deal to most experienced marathon runners, who were traditionally taught to do their longest run three weeks out from their goal race, and then taper from there.

But Jonathan Savage has found from various research that 3 weeks may actually be too long. The Hanson Brothers seem to back this up in their methodology, with a 2 week taper that’s so light that many muse that the Hanson Method doesn’t have a taper at all.

Of course, many also claim that a 20 miler is unnecessary, yet even knowing the arguments here I am beating my legs into the ground over 4 hours on a Saturday morning, logic be damned.

Still, the logic behind a shorter taper is sound.

  • You may end up peaking too early and losing fitness from the extended draw-down in volume and intensity during that final 3 weeks of training.
  • You want to peak at a time where you get to the start line with the maximal benefit from that training.

The Hansons’ program specifically has you do your last quality workout 10 days out because they posit you see benefits from a key workout after 10 days, and to push yourself anytime in the last 9 days before the goal race needlessly damages and tires you out ahead of your goal race.

That said, for many the 3 week taper seems to work anyway in part because:

  • Remember the old adage that it’s better to get to the start line undertrained than overtrained. It just works out well for most that they get to the line rested, even having lost some fitness.
  • A marathon is such a brutal experience anyway that most don’t notice during the race any fitness they may have incidentally lost from peaking too early.

Does that mean a 3 week taper is the best approach before a marathon? Possibly not.

Still, some say it’s akin to debating what kind of protein shake you’re gonna put in the bottle for the end of your upcoming workout. The workout is ultimately the more important thing, while the contents of your bottle are relatively trivial.

Likewise, debating which day to begin your taper doesn’t seem nearly as important as how you’ve trained overall the first 15-29 weeks, how consistently you’ve run, what kind of training you’ve done, how you’ve recovered, etc.

Tapering perfectly isn’t going to substantially improve a subpar training cycle. And while there is some chance a poorly done taper could damage your effort on race day, it’s not necessarily going to undo a very good training cycle (… unless your actions get you injured or sick).


However, especially after a variety of unfortunate unforeseen setbacks derailed my effort at Vancouver this May, I would like to give myself the best possible opportunity to have a good experience at the Chicago Marathon. So I don’t terribly mind putting some effort into tapering well.

I decided to meet all this conflicting advice in the middle with the following general plan:

Week ending September 16 (this one):

  • Peak mileage (53 miles).
  • High intensity (2 tempo/speed workouts, plus 2 strength training sessions).
  • Peak long run (20 miles).
  • Eat a ton of protein rich food.

Week ending September 23:

  • Slightly lower but still fairly high mileage (42-45 miles).
  • Peak intensity (3 tempo/speed workouts, 2 strength training sessions).
  • Sizable but not peak long run (13-16 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Eat another ton of protein rich food.

Week Ending September 30:

  • Substantial draw down of mileage (25-30 miles)
  • Draw down of intensity (only one strength training session, plus caving to the Hansons’ recommendation and doing the last tempo workout 10 days out).
  • Even shorter long run to stay honest (10-13 miles, 2.5 hours max).
  • Don’t eat a ton of protein rich food but maybe 0.75 tons.

Marathon Week, ending October 7:

  • Nothing but easier, shorter runs. Make sure they’re still regularish runs (3-5 miles).
  • Include either some brief tempo segments or do the runs at a moderate intensity.
  • The key to this week is to maintain running chops and not lose substantial fitness.
  • Runs done the final 3 days will not exceed 5 miles, and will likely be more like 2-4.
  • And, of course, run the actual marathon that Sunday.

The idea:

  • I think everyone across the board has the same idea when it comes to overall volume. You want to peak your weekly mileage about 3 weeks out (and most people focus on the long run or the quality workouts, without focusing on the volume of all the runs done during the week) because after that you want your body’s now accelerated ability to handle and recover from that level of pounding… to catch up at an accelerated scale, against less overall volume.
  • You do still want to get in strength training, speed sessions, tempo work, etc., because your body is still netting benefits from this work, and to eliminate or reduce it would lead to a dulling of the anaerobic/moderate caliber fitness you have developed during the last few months. I have seen for myself a performance dropoff when I cut down on intensity for a few weeks, whether or not I cut down on volume.
  • I think, along with getting scared of an upcoming race when they’ve neglected training, people training for a marathon get scared of overtraining in the final taper weeks, and thus they go overboard on the taper: Too many days off, lots of too-short runs, frequently cutting off workouts early. That as much as anything is what leads to a preliminary loss of fitness ahead of any race, let alone a marathon. I like the idea of still running everyday if you’ve already been doing it for months… just at somewhat less distance while still at enough distance to be more than a recovery run, and like Savage recommends making sure to maintain intensity as you draw down mileage and to not cut that out too soon.
  • That said, I do think the Hansons have the right idea in cutting all that out at 10 days out, and focusing just on easy running, since at that point you have done all you can do to get ready. Just keep your chops over the final 10 days, allow your body to catch up to all that training, and get to the start line ready to go.
  • If anything, the one new stimulus I’d add and practice is working on in-race fueling. One mistake I think I made in previous training cycles is to start practicing fueling during runs way too soon, and not giving myself the chance to do long runs with no water or nutrition to experience full depletion. This time around, I’ve kept in-run fueling to a minimum: Today’s 20 was probably the first time this cycle I brought any nutrition with me (two Larabars and water), and on half my long runs I didn’t bring any water. Now, with the volume and intensity having been ingrained, I can practice here and there with taking water, Gatorade, chews or whatever else every 1.5 miles or so, instead of trying that at the same time as trying to develo aerobic fitness or hit tempo. I have the space to find something that suits a rhythm.

As always, this is just one view, and I’m not saying any of this is the perfect answer to tapering. But I do think this approach may work better than the alternatives.

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Some Keys to the Yasso 800’s

The basics of the Yasso 800’s:

The Yasso 800’s is used as a marathon predictor workout, about 3-4 weeks before your goal marathon.
You run 10 reps of 800 meters all as close to the same pace as possible. The average pace of the reps should correspond with your potential marathon time.
For example, if you can consistently run the 800 meter reps in 4:05, that indicates you can run the marathon in about 4 hours 5 minutes max.
Some experienced marathoners find this estimate is fast by a few minutes, which is why I refer to the estimate as a max.

The standard caveat regarding runner ability:

A lot of what I’m about to say below assumes you’re not a hardcore runner logging elite-like volume (70+ miles per week).
When you’re pumping out 70+ miles a week, you probably already run high-volume speed workouts like this on a regular basis, and can probably run the Yasso’s at a strong pace, such as your 5K pace or better.

For experienced runners relatively new to the marathon:

The more volume you run per week, and/or the fewer marathons you’ve done, the more you should scale back the Yasso projection.
e.g. if you run 100 miles a week and can run 800’s in 3:05, maybe estimate something closer to 3:20 for your marathon. Or if your 20 mile long run is the first time you’ve ever run 20+ miles, scale those 4:15 Yassos back to a 4:30 projection.

You should already be running a lot of miles.

If you’re training for marathon, you should be logging more than 20-30 miles a week during training. Probably way more.
40-50 miles is probably the minimum during marathon training that will produce a good marathon effort, assuming you don’t already do several marathons a year.
Personally, I feel a lot of self doubt having run 30-50 miles per week, even though many would say I’m in pretty good shape to run my next marathon (while many experienced runners would say I’m not even close).

Speedwork is not a race. Don’t run the reps like a race.

As with any interval workout, you should not race these reps: Don’t do them hard. Don’t pick up the pace and “kick” at the end of the rep.
Run every rep with a steady effort wire to wire, where once you finish you could run another few miles at that exact pace if you had to.
The reps in the Yasso workout are supposed to be a barometer of your capabilities. Running closer to your max effort will not give an accurate picture of those capabilities.

These Yasso paces should be easier than running a 5K

According to most reliable pace charts (Daniels, McMillan, etc)… you should be able to hit a desired Yasso goal at about your 10K pace or slower.
If you give more like an 8K or 5K effort to hit your pace on these reps, not only may the workout be inaccurate, but (unless you run 100+ miles a week and do workouts like this all the time) you probably won’t maintain the stamina to nail that Yasso 800 pace consistently for all 10 reps.

How easy is your active recovery period between reps? That matters.

If your inter-rep recovery is a jog instead of a full rest, the following is a good barometer of whether or not you’re going too hard: If you need to walk or stop, you went too fast.
If your version of the workout allows a full stop to rest, then a good barometer of whether you went out too hard: You cross the line not feeling like you could have kept going another 800+ meters at your pace.
Again, you never want to race to the finish of these reps, reaching the line needing to stop for a total rest. Run wire to wire at a pace you’d expect to maintain in a race, meaning you should cross the line able to keep running at that pace if you had to.
If at first you can jog your recoveries… but then you need to walk or stop at later recovery intervals, it’s not only possible your intervals are too fast… but also possible that your recovery jog was too fast.
Many runners mistakenly pace their recovery jogs at more of a normal running pace. This is too fast. These recovery jogs should be super easy and casual. Imagine you’re working yourself back from a leg injury and you’re doing a test run just to get back in the swing of things. That’s the pace and effort you should put into recovery jogs.
Another analogy I find accurate is to observe a baseball hitter’s home run trot: That’s the effort you want to be putting into a recovery jog.

The key reps are the reps BEFORE the last one.

Pay close attention to the results of reps 7, 8 and 9. In fact, you could average just those three reps and may get a more accurate Yasso 800 estimate than estimating the average of all your reps.
It’s your performance while tired in the later reps that paints the most accurate picture of your capability. Bear in mind the tendency many runners have to do the final rep hard in an effort to finish the workout strong. Rep 10 will probably look stronger than the other later reps.
Pay closer attention to how reps 7, 8 and 9 look, where you’re tired but not emptying the tank with a final flourish because you know you still have more reps to do.

Another effective estimate: Take the average of your 5 slowest reps.

Few can fake 6-10 good, accurate reps.

If the pace of your individual reps varies substantially:

(let’s say by more than 15 seconds between your fastest and slowest rep):
  1. Most likely, you went out too hard. For most runners their reps in a speed workout typically vary like this: The first reps are very fast, then later reps are much slower.
  2. In some cases you may start your reps super easy, realize you have more in the tank than expected, then pick up the pace in later reps (like a negative split in a race). Along with being a psychological tendency among runners… this can indicate you didn’t warm up effectively beforehand.
  3. If your rep times consistently bounce back and forth by 12+ seconds per rep, you are either trying (at least on some reps) to hit a pace you’re not totally capable of running in a race… or you’re not taking full rest periods. If you’re in the middle of a Yasso workout and you see your times bouncing around, focus going forward on running a comfortably brisk pace that’s a tick slower than you want to run (whatever that means to you), and try to hit the same pace on the remaining reps.
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