The Ultimate Marathon Taper Plan

+ The truth about sleep and performance; Heatstroke: a runner fear factory that's not easy to "see"

The Ultimate Marathon Taper Plan 1

Here’s the free but abridged version of the Run Long, Run Healthy newsletter. See the links below to subscribe to the full-text edition with more articles and deeper, more specific running advice. – Amby

Peak Right: The Ultimate Marathon Taper Guide

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For marathon runners headed to Boston on April 15, it’s time–or maybe past time–to begin a solid marathon taper. Others heading to London or another spring marathon will have to do their own calculations.

But the goal is always the same: to find and follow a taper plan that will yield the kind of marathon performance you’ve been hoping for.

While there’s no single answer for all runners, the accumulating data is leaning toward a longer rather than shorter taper. Many marathon training programs now recommend a three-week taper after your last long run. This article summarizes much of the best advice about a marathon taper.

You don’t stop running when you taper or even stop running hard. You simply aim to reduce the long, fatiguing workouts in your program. You continue to do tempo runs or even speedwork, but you make them shorter and/or do fewer repeats.

The idea is to keep the legs and cardio system accustomed to race pace while allowing the body to freshen up with less volume. As coach Jason Karp says: “You want to decrease fatigue without losing fitness.”

Also, stop strength training two weeks before your marathon. Aim for totally recovered legs on marathon day.

Research also indicates that you’ll fare better if you follow a detailed, written taper plan. In other words, don’t taper haphazardly. Have a plan for every day, and follow that plan.

As for reducing running days and weekly mileage, a good rule of thumb is to maintain days but reduce mileage by 25 percent for each of the three weeks. If your highest week (probably during that last long run) was 40 miles, reduce the following weeks to 30, 22, and 16. But continue running for the same number of days each week. Your body will appreciate the consistency.

RELATED ARTICLE: What’s The Optimal Marathon Taper Length?

The Truth About Sleep And Performance

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Since sleep is a key component of good recovery from hard training, you’d think the best athletes would also be good sleepers. But that’s not necessarily the case, according to a new report on sleep habits of 1600 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

In fact, nearly 40 percent of them reported “poor sleep” in the International J of Sports Physiology & Performance. This caused Alex Hutchinson to wonder the following in his Outside Online column:

Does it mean that Olympians have a lot of room for improved performance if they can develop better sleep habits? Or does it mean that sleep isn’t quite as important as all the articles we read?

Those are the right questions, and Hutchinson has a solid answer. Sleep is important, but it’s probably not worth “relentless self-optimization.” One sleep expert told him, “If you get what you need, that’s as good as it gets.”

On the other hand, if you’re competing in an ultra-endurance event that requires one or more nights of sleep deprivation, you should focus hard on your pre-competition sleep.

That’s the conclusion from a new paper that investigated the sleep and performance of 15 runners who competed in one of those “Backyard Ultras,” in which participants run a 4.167-mile loop every hour for as many hours as they can.

The results showed, are you ready for this, that running through the night and beyond does indeed “impair cognitive performance.” Not exactly a big surprise.

But it also yielded another “novel finding.” The runners who reported good sleep quality the week before the competition suffered “a smaller decline in cognitive performance” than those who hadn’t slept so well. You could think of this as carb loading for the brain.

The paper didn’t mention the race results, so we don’t know if less cognitive decline produced better endurance performance. But that would seem reasonable. More at PLoS One.

RELATED ARTICLE: How Your Sleep Routine Is Compromising Your Running Performance (And Recovery)

Heatstroke: A Runner Fear Factor That’s Not Easy To “See”

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Running and heat-stress experts from the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute have spent many years studying heat-related issues at the Falmouth Road Race on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, every August. Temperature and humidity are often high at Falmouth, and notable heat stroke cases have occurred over the years.

Decades ago, the Korey Stringer researchers helped develop the best road-race treatment for runners with heatstroke: Toss them in a plastic play pool filled with ice water.

Other areas of running and heat illness remain worth studying, and this new paper describes one of them. It’s notable for two reasons:

1) The runners used several very different digital devices
2) The researchers did not find what they were expecting

First, the runners.

Before the race, 20 runners (half female, average age 48) swallowed an “ingestible thermistor” to measure their internal body temperature. They also wore sensors that recorded various “biomechanical assessments” during the race.

The folks from Korey Stringer hypothesized that if runners’ body temperature increased, they would also suffer from notable changes in biomechanics. In other words, you could perhaps spot a heat-threatened runner by his/her running form near the end. This would help medics identify and treat those runners quickly.

Result: Over the course of the 7.1-mile Falmouth race in 2022, runner body temperatures increased significantly, and runner biomechanics changed significantly. But the two were not related. Thus, the researchers had to reject their hypothesis.

Conclusion: Changes in body temperature are most closely associated with heat and humidity. Biomechanical changes, on the other hand, are most likely associated with muscular fatigue after running a long distance.

Clinical recommendation: Medical personnel at a road race finish line can “not expect changes in biomechanical movement patterns to signal thermal responses.” More at Sports Health.

RLRH note: Of course, gross changes in movement (wobbling, staggering, collapsing) may indicate significant heat distress and such runners should be evaluated immediately at the finish.

RELATED ARTICLE: 10 Expert Tips For Running In The Heat And Humidity

SHORT STUFF You Don’t Want To Miss

Get in the pace line: Kelvin Kiptum could have run 1:57:34 at Chicago last fall if only he had drafted properly behind several pacers.

HERE’S WHAT ELSE YOU WOULD HAVE RECEIVED this week if you were a subscriber to the complete, full-text edition of “Run Long, Run Healthy.” Why not give it a try? SUBSCRIBE BELOW.

  • The emerging science between leg muscle “durability” for endurance
  • What to drink (and NOT drink) for long life
  • The power of self-massage on sore leg muscles
  • How to fight harassment against women runners
  • Hey, look–Some positive news about negative heel drops
  • Eating processed foods is linked to 32 bad health outcomes
  • Air pollution isn’t good for runners. But continuing to run is better than not running
  • An inspirational quote about taking risks to achieve your goals

DON’T FORGET: I spend hours searching the Internet for the best, most authoritative new running articles, so you can review them in minutes.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for reading. See you again next week. Amby

Photo of author
Amby Burfoot stands as a titan in the running world. Crowned the Boston Marathon champion in 1968, he became the first collegian to win this prestigious event and the first American to claim the title since John Kelley in 1957. As well as a stellar racing career, Amby channeled his passion for running into journalism. He joined Runner’s World magazine in 1978, rising to the position of Editor-in-Chief and then serving as its Editor-at-Large. As well as being the author of several books on running, he regularly contributes articles to the major publications, and curates his weekly Run Long, Run Healthy Newsletter.

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