A friend of mine shot me a note the other morning:
"Michael - everything I'm reading about the marathon taper (3 wk) says do NOTHING in week three. Do you have any particular suggestions for this week? My marathon is Sunday. My last run was a half marathon at marathon pace this Saturday past."
From my own marathon training foibles, most know I consider the actual act of standing at the starting line of a marathon a major accomplishment. If the volume of training during the "typical" 18-to-24-week plan doesn't injure the self-coached runner, the "traditional" three-weeks of insanity known by many marathoners as "taper madness" can derail the marathon performance.
The biggest problem with the three-week taper is that many runners either overeat or over-train, mainly because they have too much time on their hands. Neither one is good.
While the volume of mileage in the taper ideally should ultimately decrease - some like to bring the mileage down to 65 percent of the baseline, others like to bring it as low as 50 percent...or a little lower. But the mileage which needs to be subtracted from the total volume needs to come more from the easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, not from the "quality" speed work. It's still important to do short efforts which are faster than marathon goal pace during the taper.
Which workout is going to be "just enough" for the runner doing 50-to-60 miles a week for the previous 18 weeks?
1. One-or-two miles at long training run pace, four-to-six 400 meter repeats at a pace 10-to-20 seconds faster than their marathon goal pace, with full (or 400-meter walk) recovery, followed by a mile at the long training run pace.
2. Five miles at long training run pace.
I believe workout number one is more likely to make the runner a little bit tired but not completely wipe them out. The mind is satisfied by the effort. Workout number two, after a bunch of 50-mile weeks, is one that quickly turns into "a few extra miles."
With all that time, it's surprising that many runners do not think about race execution. Rather than consider where they'll stay, what they'll do, when and where they'll eat, what they'll wear, they allow way too many factors which can adversely affect the race to be out of their control. How many runners mindlessly wander through the race expo who could have spent that time preparing shoes, socks, clothing, BodyGlide, nutrition, and getting off their feet? Got a "Plan B" for that restaurant you were going to do dinner at? Now you have a 45-minute wait, a surly waiter, and a poorly-prepared meal. How about a pacing plan? What's the guarantee against going out with the herd during the first five kilometers...and paying for it at mile 18?
The two-or-three weeks which lead into a target event, used prudently, can allow the self-coached runner's body to heal, and the self-coached runner's mind to prepare for the day.