With the Comrades Marathon just around the corner, it’s a good time to take a look at some of the common mistakes runners make when it comes to tapering in the final weeks before a big race. – BY SEAN FALCONER
You’ve done the long mileage and now you’re following the training programme’s instructions to taper down your training, so as to arrive at the start line feeling fresh. However, this is a time when many runners make costly mistakes that could ruin months of hard work during what should be a relatively easy few weeks of training.
1 Resting Too Much
Over-tapering is the single most common mistake made, which can lead to feeling flat on race day and also increases the chance that you’ll get sick, as your metabolism and immune system can be thrown out of sync due to the sudden change in activity and decreased demands on the body. So, instead of suddenly feeling fresh as a daisy when you reduce mileage, some runners actually don’t feel that good after a few easier days.
The solution: Most runners will find that reducing weekly mileage to 70-80% of maximum will provide a sufficient respite from the training load without leaving them feeling flat or sluggish, but the secret is to maintain some intensity. Yes, your hardest workouts are now behind you, but it’s important not to lose all your momentum, so you still need some quality work, like an intervals session, or better yet, a 10km tempo run where you do the first 5km at race pace, then the second 5km as fast as you can, to give your legs a good workout.
2 The Wrong Workouts
Many runners change their entire programme from long slower mileage to just doing shorter speedwork in order to feel faster, or because they are scared of arriving at the start tired. The problem with this is that your muscles will not be used to all the shorter, faster running and will fatigue quickly, and you will not be practising your race pace for the big day.
The Solution: Do two workouts per week, one of them a longer, race pace run, the second a shorter run broken up into race pace segments with up to three-minute easy rest segments in between. This will help you maintain your race pace preparation while the rest intervals will ensure that the workout is not too hard.
3 Weight-gain Worries
Then there is the fear of putting on weight during the final week of tapering, due to running less and eating more to carbo-load for race day, where the increased calorie intake is bound to pack on some extra weight, which must then be carried through the race. Typically, the desire to avoid weight-gain wins the battle and glycogen stores don’t get built to the max.
The Solution: First, remember that a little weight-gain is OK, since you’re storing extra fluids. A full gas tank is much more important than a wee bit extra weight on race day. Therefore, the experts recommend that you augment your normal eating habits with regular ‘grazing’ on healthy, energy-filled snacks in between your main but small meals.