TAPER: The Hay is in the Barn (make sure it stays there)


When it comes to the subject of tapering, running coaches will often say “the hay is in the barn”. What they mean is that there is very little you can do in the final weeks to become a faster runner intrinsically, but you can ruin your chances of running at your full potential by messing up the taper phase. Correctly tapering for a goal race can lead to a 2-8% improvement in race time. You can read the science behind this all over the internet. In that past, I have written about the madness that is the taper ; as I taper for the Richmond marathon, let’s revisit and dig a little deeper into this important training phase.


How did the hay get into the barn? Look back at your training and see the amazing accomplishments you have made over the past 3-6 months. I think the first mistake of tapering is letting negative thoughts creep into your mind. I made a commitment to myself just yesterday that I would not be negative during the next three weeks. My coach has helped me out with that by keeping the intensity up in my training…

KEEP THE INTENSITY UP (and the barn windows closed)

With the continuation of workouts like 10×800 and a tempo in taper week 1, 400s and some pace running in week two, and some 200s and strides in week 3, the intensity in my plan will remain high. All of the final long runs with have some marathon pace running in them. All of the most popular run coaches advocate for a lower volume, high intensity taper to keep the engine primed. But this also comes with some words of caution. First, if you are nursing an injury, risking a workout when you are hurting is just one way to let all that hay out the window. Second, if you forget that it takes a good 7-10 days to fully recover from an intense workout, you could end up doing a bit too much in the final two weeks. Notice that my 800s workout was in taper week 1 (of 3) and it cuts back to 400s/200s in the next week. Intensity remains high, but there is a chance for the right amount of rest before the race as well.


No cute phrasing here. With the decrease in mileage volume, weekly calories burned also drops. As calories burned drops, so does the body’s need to take in those extra calories. During training, I often burn 3400 or more calories a day. This drops dramatically during taper, and, if I continue to eat 3400 calories per day but I only burn 2400, I will gain weight. As much as the internet, diet fads, and all the rest try to convince us that “it is more than calories in and calories out,” there are times when it is, indeed, calories in V calories out. This is one of those times! You can go back to not believing that after the taper! But, for now, keep an eye on weight and nutrition. Remember this important fact if you need some motivation in this area:


How much more energy do you want to have to spend?


I often suggest that people read a book during taper. Every taper, I read the short book by Greg McMillan Surviving the Marathon Freak Out: A Guide to Running Your Best Marathon. I plan on revisiting this book as well as indulging myself in the next Lockwood and Co. novel by Jonathan Stroud (what can I say? I am an adolescent at heart). I also plan to sleep in more; when you only have 8s and 6s to run rather than 10s and 13s, you really do have a lot more time on your hands. Rest up!


I will simply say that my next blog will address this important subject. Stay tuned!