Final Countdown – tapering tips and mileage advice as marathon day approaches

In 2023, Buxton is proud to partner with Mind to support the sweat and tears of 15 Rise Up Runners. 15 real people, each facing their own physical and mental struggles, who are bravely taking on the ultimate test of resilience: The London Marathon. We’ve enlisted the help of professional running coach Keith Anderson to share his top training pointers to help them and you prepare physically and mentally for the big day.

For Keith, the taper should be nothing to worry about: “Lots of people get anxious about the taper but really it’s very simple: it’s about gradually reducing the intensity of your training in the lead up to the race so when you get to the big day you’ve got fresh legs, you’re feeling relaxed and you’re ready to do your best.”

Different people will find that slightly different things work for them but as a general rule of thumb you should start your taper about three weeks out from race day. Anderson prefers to think about it in terms of time rather than mileage: “It all depends on your routine but as an example, you might do a three-hour run three weeks out, and then a two-hour run, two weeks out, and an hour-long run in the last week. The rest of your training in those weeks should diminish accordingly.”

You might be tempted to think running a full marathon in training would be a good way to prepare for the race but as Anderson says: “If you think: it’s three weeks out I’ll do a marathon or maybe 24 miles, you’re going to leave your performance on the road.” And physiologically it doesn’t make sense: you’re risking micro muscle damage and more serious injury. It can also rob you of the motivation to conquer the marathon on race day: “The key is getting to the start line on fresh legs, not injured, and mentally fresh.”

There’s no hard and fast rule about how long your longest training run should be. “It all depends on the individual and how fit they are. You hear people saying that you’ve got to have run a 20-miler before you do your marathon. But if you’re a six-hour marathon runner and it’s your first race and you’re carrying 10 kilos too much body weight, or you’ve got a dodgy knee, what’s the outcome going to be? It’s not a one size fits all. There is no point in doing a long training run where for the last half an hour of it your quads have seized up, your knees are shot, and you’re just dragging yourself along. That does more damage than good.”

As Anderson stresses: “Your hydration is really important because it’s going to affect everything else; your performances when you’re training and your mental sharpness and motivation.” It also affects your sleep, which is so important when you’re preparing for a marathon. Anderson stresses that maintaining good hydration should go beyond just training and running. “You want to be sensibly hydrated every day of your life, particularly when you’re training, and especially during the last few weeks leading up to a race.”

In the final week Anderson recommends that first-timers do a run with a bit of zip to it on the Tuesday and a gentle jog on the Thursday. “Really, you’re just keeping the legs turning over and keeping your mind focussed.” And don’t think that it’s an opportunity to make up for lapses in your training plan. “You can’t just cram it in during the last couple of weeks and think ‘I’ll get away with it’. In the last couple of weeks, there are no real physiological gains for marathon day.”

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