Tag Archives: taper

The Race Eve pasta dinner: Is pre-race carb loading a good idea?

I may or may not have touched on the folly of carb loading, that your diet and glycogen stores are a body of work, and not something you can fix in the 48 hours before your race (though your glycogen stores and physical condition are certainly something you can break in the preceding 48 hours).

Still, the Race Eve Pasta Gorge is a favorite runner ritual, and while you may not substantially improve your glycogen reserves, you at least won’t go to bed hungry.

This leads me to two questions.

  1. Can there be a situation where a Race Eve carb-load can be beneficial?
  2. Is the Race Eve carb-load beenficial for races shorter than the marathon? If so, when so, and when not so?

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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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My current three-phase taper workout

I assure you that at some point I’ll go into my complex taper schedule methodology, which is way beyond the scope of what I’m going to share here instead.


Basically, for my marathon taper I’ve fallen into a daily workout schedule that follows three distinct phases, all of which are pretty easy for me.

  1. Leave work and immediately start an easy run towards the gym. This can be brief and allow for a train ride or a walk if desired, but this week I have run the entire way to the gym. From where I’m at this is about 2.5-3.0 miles depending on the route I take.
  2. After arriving at the gym and walking inside, I get on the treadmill, set it to my desired marathon pace and run for anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, depending on what mileage I’m planning to run that day. This is a straight tempo run: No intervals, no phases, just that tempo until I’m done.
  3. Get off the treadmill and go lift weights following a reduced version of my weightlifting plan: Each day I focus on a different muscle group, and do a full workout when I get to that particular muscle group. But for every other group I just do one simple set of 6 reps at a minimally challenging weight (just heavy enough to actually seem like a workout). With the focused section, the whole workout might take 10 minutes but usually takes more like 7 or 8.

After that’s done, I walk out of the gym and either go to the store for food, or go home. Simple as that.

I have felt quite refreshed by the end of the workout the last three days. I haven’t run more than 4 miles each day, though a good chunk of those miles have been at manageable-but-demanding M-pace.

I’ve also still been walking a considerable amount, before during and after work. In fact, instead of catching the bus I’ve just walked the 1.5 miles home most days this week. This is a relaxing coda to the workout, and provides some extra calorie burn ahead of cooking dinner once I return home.


Regardless of how you desire to structure your taper or easy weeks, this might be an approach worth considering. Despite lifting weights every weekday, I don’t feel sore in my upper body, since most of the lifting is low-pressure. And the faster running on the treadmill, while demanding during the run, hasn’t worn me out overall.

Some running experts could argue I’m cutting mileage TOO much if I’m doing nothing but 2-4 mile runs. But, to be honest… having tapered for previous races in a fuller conventional schedule, and having taken extended light-training stretches during prior training… I find a fortnight of light volume doesn’t wipe out my stamina at all.

In my previous experience, in fact, I’ve taken long runs after 3 weeks of short runs and days off and found I had tons of energy throughout the long run. The only reason I haven’t taken days off this time around is because I find I lose some sharpness when I do take days off, but I can maintain energy and sharpness even without days off if I just reduce the volume. A steady diet of short runs has done me good.

Now this weekend, in lieu of a long run, I’m going to skip straight to the treadmill and give it 20-25 good minutes at M-pace, both days this weekend. I’m starting to feel more comfortable with the pace, and by next weekend I’ll be looking forward to running that pace, outdoors, for a lot more than just 3 miles.

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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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