Monday, April 13, 2009

The Taper

Many of you are fully aware of the concept of the taper - but, I thought I'd write a little about it.

Most of this content is from Lore of Running, by Tim Noakes MD with some support from Jack Daniels and Pete Pfitzinger.

The taper is that somewhat counter intuitive concept that in the last few weeks before a goal competition you should reduce the amount of training volume and intensity. The idea is that you cannot perform at the highest level while training at the volume necessary to develop your different systems (circulatory, muscular, etc) for the race. You actually need to give your body a break that is long enough to let it recover and short enough that you don't lose any fitness.

Volume and Intensity:
The standard period for a taper is two weeks - although the highest volume weeks are probably at least 4-6 weeks before the goal competition. Experts usually suggest running 50% of the highest mileage two weeks out and 30-40% the week before. There is some debate regarding intensity - some say that you should retain intense workouts - just decreasing the volume by the same percentage as your weekly mileage - others say you should cut out intensity completely in the last 10 days before a major competition. My plan is somewhat in-between - I am running a track workout tomorrow - but, it's much easier than any "hard" workouts I've run recently. I'm also running 4-6 100 meter accelerations most days to keep my legs fresh.

It's as important to stay on track with nutrition during this period as any other period of training. Somebody like me, who puts on weight pretty easily, needs to steer clear of sweets and fat. I have to say that I didn't do great last week, being on the road, but I think that it will be easier this week at home.

Another nutritional suggestion that Noakes makes is to have a very high carbohydrate load regimen in the last 3-7 days before competition (he suggests 500g per day of complex carbohydrates per day). He also discusses the pro's and con's of including a carbohydrate depletion phase 7-10 days before competition. This phase is meant to "starve" the system of carbs, which is supposed to make the body more likely to retain carbs during the load phase. But, there is some disagreement on the effectiveness of the depletion phase and whether it might actually be harmful. I didn't really do the depletion phase : )

Mental Energy:
Noakes also writes about "storing creative energy" by avoiding creative activities in the last few days before the race. That's one nice thing about Boston being on a Monday - I have at least two days without working before the race. I'll probably bring a book along and read most of the time.

Noakes writes of a "colleague who missed one ultramarathon because of influenza now refuses to work for the last 7 days before a race. When not running during this period, he dons a surgical mask, takes leave of his family, and cloisters himself in a sterile environment, accompanied only by a library of Eastern philosophy. At such times, only those who are known to be free of marathon-destroying germs have access to him." Then Noakes writes that this shouldn't be though of as odd behavior - since Noakes did write a book just shy of 800 pages on running I think he might be a little blinded from what most people would consider odd.

Another part of the mental preparation for a goal race is mentally rehearsing the race. I'll talk through this a little later this week - when I go over my race plan.

One week to go! Current weather report for Boston on 4/20 - low of 41 high of 53 - 30% chance of showers. Not beach weather, but great marathoning weather!


Evan said...

I've been a lurker on your blog for awhile and just wanted to let you know that it's been a great inspiration for me as I train for my first Boston Marathon. Although my goal finish time is 20 minutes slower than yours, I've definitely gained great training tips by seeing your own weekly regimen. Unfortunately an untimely knee injury has kept me out of things for the past three weeks, but I'm doing all I can to recover and if I can't I'll still find a way to smile on April 20th. Good luck to you, although I think you've done a great job so far at making your own luck.

Ben said...

Hey Evan - glad to know somebody is actually reading this thing! : ) Sorry to hear that you've had some bad luck with your knee - hopefully it will work itself out. Good luck next week!

Harsha said...

Hi Ben,

I'm with Evan on this one. As another runner training for next week's Boston Marathon (my first!), its great to read your thoughts on the training process. Best of luck next week!

alyssa said...

I suppose this is a long shot but are you the Harsha from MA that I worked with at the running store?