The Boston Marathon is only three weeks away, and while the heavy-duty training is over, the next three weeks days will continue to offer challenges. Most runners start their taper at this point. While a few easy weeks may seem like a much needed respite, some marathoners find it difficult to pull back just before the race.
Emotionally, life can get rough for a runner three weeks before the Boston Marathon. After months of hard training, cutting back can lead to self-doubt. Sometimes a marathoner gets addicted to the highs of long, hard workouts. When those efforts are scaled back, marathoners can get down, feel sluggish and even suffer phantom pains.
Don’t be tempted to throw in a final 20 miler or a punishing interval session three weeks out. While these runs may alleviate some of the performance anxiety that comes during a taper, most runners will pay for it during the race. A study published by the American College of Sports Medicine shows that runners can improve their performance by as much as three percent during a good taper. That can knock five to 10 minutes off of a marathoner’s finish time.
Cutting back mileage is the key to a proper taper, allowing a runner’s body time to recover after months of hard training. Three weeks out, marathoners should trim their mileage by 10 to 20 percent. For example, a runner who peaks at 70 miles a week should run between 56 and 63 miles during week three. The long run should typically drop from 20-22 miles to 14-16 miles.
Pace and Intensity
While the mileage is coming down, the intensity of key workouts should stay high. Speed work is still important, but sessions should be shorter. A tempo run with a few miles at marathon pace can give a runner confidence going into the race. A couple of one or two mile intervals at half marathon pace will keep leg turnover fast. Longer rest periods between intervals can help avoid exhaustion.
Some runners may feel the need to throw in some hills, but try to avoid downhill running during the last three weeks before the race. The Boston Marathon is a hilly course, but downhill running causes more muscle tissue damage than horizontal running according to a 2011 study in Muscle & Nerve. Three weeks out, a marathoner’s focus should be on repairing that damage in order to start the race on fresh legs.
Hydration and Nutrition
Many runners will hit their taper in a state of mild dehydration due to months of hard training. While proper hydration is still important, there’s no need to overdo it. Humans aren’t camels, so they can’t stock up on water three weeks before a race. As always, marathoners should drink according to thirst.
Watching food intake becomes slightly more important during the taper. Mileage goes down while a marathoner’s appetite most likely remains the same. Cutting back a little can help avoid unnecessary weight gain before the race. Because it’s important for a runner’s body to recover and replenish glycogen stores during the taper, calorie restriction should be minimal (100 to 200 calories a day).
The quality of a runner’s nutrition, however, should remain high in the last three weeks. Almost all marathoner’s know about carbo-loading, but lean protein and healthy fats are essential, too. According to Boston Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, R.D., 10 to 15 percent of a marathoner’s calories should come from protein, 20 to 30 percent from fats, and 55 to 65 percent from high-quality carbohydrates.
Kimberly Bogin is an Emmy Award winning television producer who has been running marathons for 14 years. After her non-running friends banned her from talking about training, races and black toenails, Kimberly decided to write about it instead, working as the Running Examiner for the last four years. Examiner.com.