How to taper for a marathon, ultramarathon or Ironman

How to taper for a marathon, ultramarathon or Ironman

Tapering for endurance events is a much-overlooked part of training and is a huge marginal gain available for free to anyone prepared to do nothing. Because doing nothing is exactly what's required to taper for a marathon, ultramarathon, Ironman or other endurance challenge. It sounds easy, but it is in fact really bloody difficult - this guide strips it down and makes the perfect taper simplicity itself

For anyone not familiar with the concept of tapering, it's the practice of easing off your training before a major event so you arrive at the startline fresh and full of beans, not overtrained, injured and exhausted. 

Done right tapering is the biggest single performance gain you can make pre-race, and it can deliver phenomenal race day results.

Unsurprisingly, there is a ton of detailed information on tapering all over the web, and (also unsurprisingly) far too much of it is so detailed - and often full of conflicting advice - it will leave you as confused and as unsure about tapering as when you started. 

We're not going to do that here. 

After all, our mission at 33Fuel is to make huge performance available to everyone. 

Instead, here's a deadly simple four-step guide to the perfect taper which will deliver incredible results. 

1 Timing - when to taper

One clear week before your event is the minimum taper block you want, ten days is even better. 

At this stage training cannot make you fitter. All it can do is wear you out, stress you out, or - worst of all - get you injured. All of which will destroy your race goals. Training at this point is all downside, no upside, it's a trade no sane person would make. 

But of course we're not sane when we're staring down the barrel of a huge race are we?

The demon on the shoulder is going off like crazy, and the fear is ramping up. All we can think is we're not ready, and all that makes us want to do is train. Harder and harder. 

Avoid this temptation at all costs - it's only a shortcut to a bad result, DNF or injury. 

2 Do nothing - less is more when tapering

With the demon on your shoulder shut up, and 7-10 days clear before your big event, now comes the really hard work. Doing nothing. 

Channel the pro cyclists' mantra: 'don't run when you can walk, don't walk when you can sit, don't sit when you can lie, and don't lie when you can sleep'.

The aim is maximum recovery of the body, and this needs you to rest big time. 

How to taper for a marathon, ultramarathon, Ironman 2

Channel your inner animal for big sleep to fuel your taper

Remember too that for all of us who combine our sport with family life, work and more true rest is a rare luxury. Pro athletes literally do not lift a finger on rest days, so while that's going to beyond anyone with a job, there are still multiple hacks we can do to max out rest. 

Shift your mindset to the opposite of your normal active self and minimise all movement. Don't run to work, get the train. Don't walk to the shops, take the bus. Don't visit friends, invite them to come to you. It's time to channel lazy!

3 Three things you must DO for a successful taper

Alongside all this nothing, there are three key things you must do for max taper results.

1 Stretch and roll

The aim of the taper is to peak your energy on race day so you arrive as the best possible version of yourself you can. If you don't keep your body moving to some degree in this period, particularly after a block of sustained training, it will react badly by tightening up in all the wrong places.

The result? Total immobility during a taper will most likely see you race straight into injury.

Beat this with gentle movement. 

Light yoga every day or two is an excellent solution (this 20-min flow from Fiji McAlpine at doyogawithme) is a total favourite of ours and ideal for any taper). Gentle walking and cycling are also ideal, as is daily stretching and foam rollering to keep those knots away, so you arrive on race day fast, fresh and free.

2 Eat awesome

Give your body the absolute maximum in nutrients with a seriously nutrient-dense whole food smorgasbord of brilliance - for easy tips on what this looks like check this post here, and this one too.

33Fuel's Pre and Post Workout Shakes come into their own here, delivering massive nutrient density with every last ounce focused on every element of pure athletic performance from sleep and recovery to immune function and fat metabolism. 

These lift any taper, and guarantee that even if work and life mean you can't eat as perfectly as you would like, you have the most important bases covered in one tasty hit with a daily shake. 

how to tape for a marathon or endurance event - pre and post workout shake

 

33Fuel's Pre and Post Workout Shakes - your perfect taper partner, each one a single serve power-packed piece of performance fuel brilliance

Also be sure to drink lots of water to keep your muscles and tendons relaxed and mobile, and consider reducing or dropping caffeine. This can be really helpful as it will mean the effects of any caffeine used on race day will be increased. This post on caffeine and performance explains more.

3 Sleep, tons

Work and life mean early mornings may be unavoidable in any taper. So instead, preload your sleep with 'reverse lie-ins' and get to bed seriously early the night before to pack 10-12 hours kip in before the alarm hits you at 6am.

Consider power naps too. Ditch that hour in front of the TV, for an hour asleep instead.

If you struggle with sleep or just want more athletic benefits from the sleep you do have, this short post examines sleep as performance enhancer and has tons of handy takeaway info. 

How to taper for a marathon, ultramarathon, Ironman 3

Add power naps whenever you can to increase restorative sleep hours, even 20 mins can be beneficial

4 Manage your race day effort to reap your taper rewards

Follow the three points above and you'll arrive at the start line on fire and feeling fresher than you can remember. You'll have so much energy you won't know what to do with it! 

While this sounds awesome, the reality is it's a mixed blessing because you're going to start your race feeling so fast and light that overcooking the early stages in a fit over overconfidence before blowing up shy of the finish line is now your biggest risk. 

So be sure to rein yourself in over the early miles, sticking to your target time/pace religiously for at least the first half of your marathon, ultramarathon, Ironman or whichever other endurance challenge you've taken on.

Then take a view at the halfway mark. Are you still feeling so much better you're ready to push harder, or do you want to stick to your target?

If you're sure you've still got more in the bank you can experiment with upping the pace but if you're not sure in any way, thoughts of more speed at this stage are your ego messing with you - ignore them, and hold your planned pace until you are at three-quarters distance before reassessing.

Conclusion: how to taper for a marathon, ultramarathon, Ironman, or other endurance event

How to taper for a marathon, ultramarathon, Ironman 4

Taper done, game face on, now hit that start line and have it!

Give yourself at least seven days' total rest, do as little as possible while keeping gentle movement going, sleep tons, drink water, and eat awesome. Then manage that effort on race day and smash your target times. Welcome to your new PB, nice work!

 

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