Demystifying Marathon tapering in preparation for the Dublin Marathon

Evan Scully
By Evan Scully
A Sports Therapist, Strength Coach and Traditional Chinese Acupuncturist who has worked with over 100 Olympians, of which 24 have won Olympic Medals. Evan spent 2014/15 with the current Olympic 1500m Champion as his personal therapist and strength coach. Recently he worked in Kenya with their top middle and long distance athletes. For more information check out his website ScullyTherapyClinic.com or find him on Twitter @STCinjured

Some suggest that the basic idea of tapering for a Marathon is that you just rest your feet up 10-14 days out. It’s all lies! In a nutshell, your muscles lack tension, you’re out of routine, and you have all this nervous energy until the Marathon starts. People tend to overthink tapering. Don’t go changing everything. You’ve done the hard work. This is just the icing on the cake. My aim is to demystify Marathon tapering ideology, and give you clear advice on what you should do.

  1. Carb loading

The way athletes have done it in the past is to go through a depletion day, eating no carbs. The following few days they eat loads of starchy carbs. Carbs don’t last that long in the body and they aren’t a very useful source of sustained energy. In fact, muscle carbohydrate stores will only last for 80 minutes before depletion. You have run possibly 20-24 miles in training. Did you carb load for that run? The majority of people will answer no. Your body has enough stores to get you through a Marathon. Its 26 miles without food, not 26 days. Plus you will still have energy gels, jellies, sports drinks etc. throughout the course.

Carbohydrates during the race

The amount of carbohydrates you consume during the marathon is essential. During prolonged exercise, carb provides additional fuel which becomes especially important when energy stores become depleted.

The length of time you exercise for depends on how much carbs you take. For interval training/sports it actually hinders performance. Follow this graph to estimate how much you need (Note, your stomach needs to be trained the same way your muscles are. So get used to consuming gels, sweets, drinks during training)

  1. How many miles?

One of the biggest mistakes that athletes do leading up to the race is not having enough tension, or maybe too much tension in the muscles. I would suggest continuing the number of days you have been training in the past few weeks. I.E If you have ran 3-4 days a week in training then continue with that number. Reduce the distance. Let’s say 5 miles a day. This will keep the tension in the muscle without over extending the tension. (See Sean Hehir’s tips below for more)

  1. New Gear

If you have bought a pair of runners for the marathon, make sure you have run a good few miles in them. This applies to everything including your socks. Anything that you are going to wear on Marathon day, wear them for runs during the week. Shoes nowadays don’t really need to be broken in. Just don’t go buying shoes for the race the day beforehand at the Expo.

  1. Water

How much of it should you consume? In a study from the Commonwealth Games Marathon showed that the top athletes were the most dehydrated. Similarly, the 2004 Ironman-Triathlon showed that the athletes with the highest dehydration levels were also the athletes who finished the fastest. However, this does not mean they went into the race dehydrated, it shows that athletes can achieve outstanding performances while being dehydrated by more than 2% of their body weight.

If your urine is dark, you are dehydrated. If it’s clear/slightly yellow, you are hydrated. Vitamin B12 can change the colour of your urine to a darker shade, so be mindful of that. What you don’t need to do is hydrate with a high sugar content liquid. As stated in a previous article – sugar makes you pee. So it’s counterproductive.

Here are 5 points from previous Dublin Marathon winner and this year’s National Half Marathon Champion, Sean Hehir.

1 Ease right back but don’t switch off

It goes without saying that it is extremely important to considerably reduce the volume and intensity of your training in the week leading up to marathon day. Feeling fresh, strong and ready on marathon morning is the ultimate goal. However, the common practice among marathon runners (of all abilities) to switch off almost entirely in the week or fortnight before marathon day is one I don’t sign up to.

Schedule a very light workout about 5 days prior to marathon race day. A personal favourite of mine is a 2 mile effort at my target marathon pace followed by 8 x 100m strides/accelerations. It is not uncommon to feel lethargic on marathon week in spite of the reduction in training. I have often completed this pre-marathon workout wondering how on earth I’m going to maintain my marathon pace for the whole 26.2 miles. However I do feel it is sensible to remind the legs and body of what the expectation is in terms of target pace and effort on marathon week, and I feel the strides/accelerations are also important to add a bit of pep in your step in the days leading up to marathon day. Don’t worry. Come marathon morning you will be ready to roll. For every other run on marathon week run at a very easy and relaxed pace with your runs getting progressively shorter the closer you get to race day. Enjoy the feeling of your legs and body freshening up for race day.

It is also important not to switch off mentally in the days/weeks leading up to marathon day, assuming all the hard work is done and that you can rest on your laurels. Don’t lose sight of what all the hard work and sacrifice has been for.

2 Early to bed, early to rise

I know this is common sense, but it is something I constantly have to remind myself of on marathon week. The night before marathon day is not the time to catch up on a week’s worth of lost/insufficient sleep. Be disciplined on marathon week on all fronts, but particularly in terms of your rest and sleep. It can also be a good idea to prepare yourself for the expected early morning start on marathon day by getting up 3-4 hours prior to the race start time on 2/3 mornings in marathon week.

[Don’t forget: Clocks go back an hour at 2am on race morning, October 30th].

3 Don’t try anything new on marathon week/race day

Do not try new foods/gels/drinks/routines/race kit/etc. for the first time on marathon week or on marathon day. If you are staying in Dublin prior to race day, bring your own food or reserve somewhere reliable to eat well in advance of travelling. The rookie mistake that is often made is to be stuck without a reliable place to eat dinner the evening/night before race day as everywhere is full/booked out. It has happened to me (it won’t happen again) and leads to needless anxiety. Fueling up and being adequately hydrated in the 2 days prior to race day is very important (but there’s no need to overdo it!). Stick to what you know and what works for you.

4 Control the Controllable’s

You can’t plan for everything that will come your way on marathon day but you can control the controllable. Be prepared. Be ready. Organise yourself for the race in the days prior to marathon day.

5 Stick to your pre-race goal

The energy and excitement on Dublin marathon weekend and on the morning of the Dublin marathon is incredible. Savour it. Soak it up. But don’t get carried away. You have 26.2 miles to accomplish your pre-race goal. Throwing caution to the wind and setting out at a pace that hasn’t been planned for is a very common mistake. Incredible things are always possible on race day, but be sensible.

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