Boy, do I love mornings when I "feel" healthy. By that definition - healthy - I mean "can run up to a half-marathon distance" and function the rest of the day. Oh, and define functional as "can walk the d-a-w-g around the park without complaint."
It's easier to teach from ground level than from a bike saddle on the run. Since Labor Day weekend Angela's Sunday runs are - in part or in full - solo, depending on whether the Sunday morning group sleeps in or goes to a race. Two hours, tops, is what my tendons will tolerate...that means I bicycle along during two-and-a-half hour runs with extra water bottle and cell phone, just in case "stuff" hits the fan.
"You picked a great week to come back, Coach."
So began my rhetorical question time, at mile one, no less. "Tell me what you already know about tapering."
"That's where you cut back on mileage during the last week or two before the race, up to one-half."
Very well. She's read the articles that every other runner training for a marathon has. Curve ball time; see if Angela puts this one into the bleachers...
"What's the ideal run intensity during the taper?"
Have you watched the first "Major League" movie, specifically the scene where the Cuban defector crushes a series of fastballs? Then the assistant coach tells the batting practice pitcher to throw a few curve balls...therein lies the essence of comedy. Whiff. Whiff. Whiff. "Easy-peasy."
My old college coach used to say, "you can run hard, you can run long, but you cannot run both at the same time." In the final weeks before a target event it's either the intensity or the duration being run that needs to be cut back. But not both. The rule of thumb for rest, recovery and the ideal amount of time before to ramp up to full intensity after a race can be used in the opposite direction when approaching the home stretch of training before a race.
So, a target race of marathon distance can merit a taper period of three weeks, give or take. A runner taking a three-week taper - sixty-mile weeks or more leading in - could trim a quarter of their duration or distance three weeks out, decrease by one-third the second week, and drop down to fifty percent on the last week.
What's important during this time is to maintain the overall intensity. A runner doing sixty miles a week at a perceived intensity of five on a one-to-ten scale would ideally want to, during a three-week taper, run up to 45 miles the first week at a six. The second week would be a 40-mile distance at a seven or eight...the first couple of days on the third week would be at a nine.
How many easy days would I recommend during the last week before the target race? If my training were targeted toward a four-hour finish I would probably cut intensity and duration/distance during the last four days before the race.
"Taper madness" is only maddening for the athlete who fails to prepare. Everything gets cut back but the dietary intake...next thing you know the athlete is five pounds heavier and sluggish, rather than rested, ready and sharp. Needful things can be prepared during the two to three weeks before a marathon (or week before a half-marathon), such as pacing strategies, quality time with the family members who helped you get to the start. Definitely not time to go out and hammer the roads into submission. Take it easy, but don't take it too easy.