The Road to Boston: Taper time (sorta)
There are now just two weeks to go before I line up in Hopkinton to run my first (and by default, fastest) Boston Marathon on Monday 15 April at 10am EST.
A few weeks ago, I wrote that following the 'Around the Bay' (30k) race, it would 'officially' be time to taper my training and wind down, in order to 'peak' (i.e. maximize performance) in Beantown.
Well, as it happens, last week was a bit bolder than I was planning, in part thanks to how great I was feeling. And so despite the hard effort at ATB, I ran just over 150k for the week and felt fantastic whilst doing so (feeling way too damn good?!). Most miles were done 'easy', but my paces were a bit faster than they should/could have been. I also ran a fair share of rolling hills and even managed to complete a challenging yet comfortable speed workout on Thursday that included more than 11k of speed work at approximately half-marathon pace (HMP). In sum, I'm (still) feeling super fit and ready and rearing to tackle the 42.2.
Anyone who knows anything about running generally, and marathoning specifically, should recognize that the days and weeks immediately before a key race or event, and commonly known as the 'taper,' are potentially the most critical in terms of producing an optimal performance (assuming that an appropriate amount of training was done in the 8-12 weeks before this time). This refers mostly to what kind of training (how much, how often, how hard) one should do to maximize energy levels and minimize fatigue but should also include what one consumes to fuel up (carbo-loading) and slim down for race day as well.
Unfortunately, most people don't know enough about either of these things. Common mistakes I see people making all the time are a) running too little, especially in the 3 weeks, before the race and b) eating too much (excluding in the 2-3 days right before the event... when carbo loading is most effective).
In short, people take too much time off running, and thus feel stale on race day; and also eat too much. No wonder they go stir crazy during the taper. I won't go into any great detail here, but from my own observations and interactions, I see many people making some seemingly minor yet significant (and sometimes stupid) mistakes in the final few weeks of training that ultimately costs them time and can even make racing a marathon a pretty terrible experience. Yup, this coming from the guy that just ran ATB "all out" only 3 weeks out of Boston... it's so easy to say "I told you so" after the fact.
3 weeks to taper is a ridiculously long amount of time. Even 2 weeks is pushing it and may be unnecessary! Our group has done a modified taper of ~10 days to great effect. We run a late cycle long run less than 2 weeks out from the race and then begin our taper in earnest after this point. So, for example, this week we will run a mid-week 30+k run and then our mileage will start to gradually decline (however, not the frequency or intensity...we also do a hard workout late in the week). As a result, we ride the wave of fitness late into the second taper week and then give the body the time it needs to (fully) recover. It sounds crazy, but it works!
So ya, this week will also be another week of relatively tough training (tapering) and end up being 120+k. What one does in that final week is very personal and based on the individual but the adage 'less is more' definitely applies at that point and running should be as easy as possible and really only serves to maintain mental sanity.
I've now written far more than I ever intended and much of it is anecdotal and based on my own experiences. As always, my words should be taken with a grain of salt. All the best to those of you now in 'taper mode' whether for Boston or some other race. Keep running... and leave the carbo load to the last 3 days before the race.