Nov 9, 2014

The Hay is in the Barn

It’s just about taper time for the Philly Marathon (2 weeks), and as my good friend Daniel McNeil likes to say, ‘the Hay is in the Barn.” When a runner uses this expression it is referring to that point in training when you have basically run out of time to improve your speed and endurance.  At this point, it is time to switch over from training to tapering. I’ll be able to know a lot more clearly in a few hours whether the hay is truly “in the barn” or not. As I often do 2 weeks prior to any marathon, I got up at the same time I will on race day (3 hours before my run) and am treating today like a test run for race day. I’m doing everything the same as I will on race day, other than the fact that I’m not in Philadelphia and I’m not running the full 26.2 miles.  Today’s run is 2 hours and 15 minutes, with 2 times 45 minutes at my goal marathon pace; which will work out to about 14 miles at marathon pace, and a total of about 20 miles. I have never done any more than 12 miles at marathon pace in a training run, which is why today will be such a good test.

I’ve been running marathons for close to 10 years and have learned that there are varying philosophies regarding tapering. I have tapered effectively, and not so effectively. The difficult thing is, what works for you, may not work for your training partner. For example, if you are training for a marathon at age 25 with your training partner who is 55, chances are your training partner will require a longer taper. That said, the marathon taper is a delicate balance of maintaining fitness while promoting recovery. In the past, I have experimented with taper periods ranging from 2-3 weeks. With any effective taper, there should be a gradual reduction in volume and intensity. A friend of mine, Lauchie McKinnon, who has been running marathons for over 30 years (including a personal best of 2:39) has taught me the majority of what I know about running. He has always preached, “once you hit your taper, you cannot improve your chances of success, you can only hinder them.” There is lots you can do (more sleep, proper eating, less time on your feet, etc.), but there is nothing else that can be done to improve fitness.  The trick is to know when to hit the gas pedal and switch from training to tapering. Before meeting Lauchie, I made the mistake a few times of drastically decreasing my volume and intensity three weeks out and didn’t pay as much attention to my diet. In my mind, I wasn’t training as much or as hard so I didn’t need to eat as well. Consequently, I felt sluggish on race day and had gained 5-7 pounds. Gaining a little bit of weight (2-3 pounds) is normal, but 5-7 pounds is unnecessary, and will not help during the final 5-6 miles when are you really trying to dig deep and finish strong.

I am trying something a bit different this time around with respect to my taper. As mentioned in previous posts, I have shown minimal improvement at the marathon distance over the past few years. Consequently, I felt it was time for a change. I am following a training program developed by Matt Ison at Carmichael Training Systems. Based on the way I have progressed leading up this marathon, he feels that a 10-day taper is what will work best for me. Most of the research I have come across states that the body needs at least two weeks to gain fitness from any workout. In my case, Matt feels that a taper of 2-3 weeks will cause me to loose some of my speed. If I had been training specifically for this marathon for 4-5 months, the program would likely be a bit different. Because I’ve only been training specifically for Philly since late August, he feels as if my body is rapidly gaining fitness from each tempo run and long run, and will continue to do so up until I’m 10 days out from the marathon. Time will tell if this was the best option from me. As mentioned, I’ll know more after today’s long run, and even more once I am in the final miles of the marathon.

This is a graph I came across which is a great illustration of the taper process.

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