One thing is for certain, it is better to stand on the start line slightly under-trained and well rested than over-trained, injured and tired.
Your training is done. And you need to now be on your taper. The length of a taper will depend on the distance of your race – for a 21.1km, there is hardly any taper, for a marathon, about 2 weeks, and for an ultra (like Comrades Marathon) three weeks.
There is no time to make up missed sessions or continue to train when you are weeks out from your event. If you don’t follow a proper taper, you will be tired on race day, or you may get sick or injured leading up to race day. Rather spend this time resting, planning and preparing for your race. Your muscles will be stronger and ready for the race if you taper.
It is vital that you get a good night’s sleep two nights before your big race. It’s unlikely you will sleep well the night before the race, so don’t fret about it. It doesn’t actually matter and will not have a major impact on your race. Sort out your race kit early so you don’t stress out the night before the race.
Determine your taper
According to author and coach, Norrie Williamson, training is a process of overload and adaptation. Each time we train small micro-tears are generated in our muscles, but rest and recovery allow the muscles to rebuild. If rest is adequate then the muscles rebuild stronger than before. It has been shown that the muscle damage becomes more severe when running further than 25km. So...
Your overall training load for the marathon needs to be reduced after your ‘longest training run’ or over the final two weeks before the race. This gives your muscles time to recover.
Follow your training program, as it has the suggested distances for a decent taper. Don’t be tempted to do more.
Remember: It is the distance that is dropped – not the ‘quality’ of the work. Continue to do your speed work – this way you will not get too nervous before the race, as you are still ‘busy’. Speed work also keeps your fitness level up. Work hard, but do less distance and rest more between the sessions.
Here are a few other things you can do to keep yourself busy during your taper:
Wear compression clothing to help recovery.
Get a massage.
Predict your finish time – talk to me, I can probably give you a pretty good estimate. Set at least three finish goal times – the ‘everything goes perfectly’ time; the ‘this is what I can do as a result of my training’ time and finally the ‘it’s been a bad day’ time.
Be prepared mentally. Be confident – you’ve done the training, you are ready. Think about what you are going to do – what can go right, what can go wrong, what are you going to do about that?
Choose a run-walk schedule – work out your race plan. For example, decide if you are going to walk through the drink stations to get a break. Just remember – you need to have a bit of ‘urgency’ about you – you are after all running a RACE. RUN!
Pain management – this may not be something you have considered, but remember on race day you will be going faster than in your regular long runs – and you’ll be going further than ever before! Anticipate that you may have some muscle injury. Be wary of using painkillers during the race – it can cause major problems and stuff up your liver, kidneys and probably other vital organs too. So only use what you have tried during your long runs.
If you are sick you must seriously consider whether you must line-up to do the race.
Remember to sort out your gear and decide what you will eat and drink on race day during your taper.
Here's what NOT to do:
Spend all day on your feet at the expo the day before your race.
Use the time you save from running to renovate your house during your taper.
Now watch this 16 minute movie “Christopher McDougall: Are we born to run?”.