Tips on Marathon Tapering

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Fall marathon runners are now approaching the final weeks of their training plans and undoubtedly race day is beginning to feel very real. With runners experiencing a growing sense of urgency to be race ready, we reached out to some of the most experienced leaders in Chicago marathon running who lead CARA marathon training sites for their best final tips.

Visualize a Successful Race Day

In addition to physical and logistical preparation, CARA Darien Site Coordinator Jim Murphy stresses the need to prepare mentally. “A week before the race you should know in detail your race day schedule — when you wake up, how you will get to the race, what you will wear and eat,” says Murphy.

For several days before the race Jim suggests finding a quiet and relaxing place, and taking some time to close your eyes and visualize race day. Picture what you will see and do, starting with waking up in a positive state after a good night’s sleep. Rehearse mentally yourself going through all the little details, even a trip to the port potties, stress free.

“Watching videos on the Bank of America Chicago Marathon web site is a great way to see and hear what race day is actually like,” Murphy adds. This will allow you to create imagery during your vitalization exercises that feels real. Visualize the crowds, the music at the start, and running those first few miles.

Murphy notes you should also visualize “rough patches” when fatigue is catching up to you, and how you will engage in positive self-talk that you prepared and rehearsed before the run.

Murphy’s final advice is to visualize the cheering getting louder as you turn the corner on Roosevelt Road in Chicago. Picture the finish line and see the clock at your goal time; seeing this success through visualization is something you can go back to in your mind on race day.

Avoid Anything New

Runners have heard it before, that they should avoid doing anything new during the taper, but still so many of us regularly do. CARA Libertyville site coordinator Bill Pierce recognizes that the extra time experienced from decreased training, and a heightened sense of urgency to be race ready, often leads runners to look for new things to add to their program at the last minute.

“Just because you have more time during the final few weeks, doesn’t mean that you should fill it with anything different,” Pierce says. Doing so, in most cases, is a risk to your race day preparations.

Pierce also points out examples such as yoga, that are great for stretching and strengthening. If they have not been practiced during the training season, they are not worth the risk of injury or soreness during the taper. You will have plenty of time, with much lower risks, after the race when you have recovered properly to try new things.

CARA Downtown Site Coordinator Betsy Balgooyen Keller backs up that point with key advice to “trust in your training.” Keller urges runners to stick with what you did in training, sticking to the taper and leaving the new things or products you saw at the expo for another time.

Fist Bumps over Handshakes

Pierce provides a unique instruction to his runners; that is, “stop shaking hands in the weeks leading up to race day.” No, it is not about being anti-social, it is about avoiding germs. The last thing you want to derail your marathon goal after 18 weeks of training is illness.

Getting through 26.2 is challenging enough without having health problems. Pierce notes that even recovering from an illness early in the taper can have residual affects come race day.

If handshakes and personal contact with others is unavoidable, Pierce reminds runners to wash their hands regularly or keep hand sanitizer nearby. Of course, there is always the option of a fist bump!

If You Can Run 20, You Can Do It

CARA Wheaton Site Coordinator Jim Laubsted tells his group “If you can run this program through the 20 miler, you can run a marathon.” Whether you train with CARA or not, if you have committed to, and followed through with, a well respected training plan, then you should have the confidence to become a marathon finisher.

Laubsted admits that if you asked yourself after the 20 miler if you could have done another six miles, your answer is probably no. But he reminds runners that the 20 miler was hard because your body is still adjusting to increasing mileage. “In most cases, you haven’t run 20 miles before and you could have said the same thing about 18 miles two weeks ago,” Laubsted adds. It is important to recognize that your body is continually adapting and improving leading up to race day.

Laubsted notes that the taper is one of the key components in marathon training.  It gives your body the time to rest and rebuild without losing the training you have put in.

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