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Perfect Fall Marathon Taper

Three weeks out it's time to start

Ah, the marathon taper. Some runners love it, as it means they’ve just completed their last long run before race day and feel relieved that the hardest part of training is over; whereas others hate it, because it means the mileage they’ve become so accustomed to running each week drops off quickly and they don’t know what to do with themselves (otherwise known as a “taper tantrum”).
 
Tapering, where you ease up on training about three weeks out from your goal endurance event, lets your body recover just enough while maintaining your fitness level so you’re ready to perform on race day. Although how you taper depends a bit on how you train, there are three main things you should focus on during your marathon taper to help ensure a successful performance on race day.
 
Training Volume
Although the volume of running you do during your taper weeks is highly dependent on what kind of marathon training plan you followed in the previous 12-18 weeks, there are a few general tried-and-true guidelines to follow when it comes to cutting back on mileage ahead of race day.
 
Generally, you want to cut your training volume by 20 to 30 per cent each week from your highest volume week, which is typically between three to four weeks out from race day. So, for example, if you are training for a marathon and you ran a total of 55 kilometres (two 7.5 km runs, one 4 km run, and one 36 km run) four weeks out from your race, you could run a total of 39 kilometres (two 7.5 km runs at marathon pace with 4-7 minutes of repetitions in each, one 4 km run, and one 20 km run) the following week; a total of 28 kilometres (two 7.5 km runs at marathon pace and one 13 km run) the next week; and the week before the race you could do two easy 5 km runs and one easy 3 km run with a few pick-ups near the end to get the legs moving.
 
Even though you may feel like you could run farther and faster during taper, please don’t: your body needs this time to recover and get ready so you can give it your all on race day.

Nutrition
During the first and second week of taper, focus on eating lots of fresh, healthy foods, staying hydrated and upping your protein intake slightly to help with muscle repair. Keep your carbohydrate consumption the same until the last three days before your race. During that time, eat an extra 100-200 grams of carbs per day to boost glycogen stores in your muscle —your primary source of fuel on race day. The night before the race, don’t feel like you need to inhale a huge bowl of pasta—take in complex carbs during each meal over the entire day and have a light and healthy dinner (like baked chicken and rice with a salad), one that you know sits well with you and won’t cause any stomach upset while you’re running 42.2 kilometres.

Rest and repair
We all know sleep = repair, so get as much shut-eye as you can over the next few weeks. If you can, book a pre-race therapeutic massage about five to seven days out from the race. Not only is a pre-race massage relaxing (and might help you sleep better), but also can increase blood flow, reduce muscle soreness, and restore joint range of motion. You should also take at least two whole days off from exercise per week during your taper, easing up to just three or four shorts runs the week before the race. Trust you’ve put in the mileage needed by this point, and remember that more does not equal is not better (unless it’s rest) the week before a marathon.  

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5 steps to build toward a bigger and better triathlon season

Maintaining a base level of fitness is important in the off-season to keep you strong

The winter months provide a perfect time to move away from structured training and allow your body time to properly recover. That said, halting your training altogether is not recommended and will only make getting into shape for the new triathlon season even more difficult. Maintaining a base level of fitness is important, but shed the pressures of race season training and be better off for it. The key is finding balance. Here are a few considerations for the cold months.
  1. Work on your weaknesses – Most triathletes have strengths and weaknesses. Know where you excel and where you need to improve. Use the non-racing months to zero in on the discipline(s) you really need to strengthen. Read books on the subject, do some research on YouTube, ask more experienced athletes and try to gain further knowledge about strategies to bolster performance. Then put this information into practice and aim to develop your proficiency while it’s cold outside.
  2. Do shorter, more intense workouts – Forget endurance. Instead, focus on lactate threshold and where applicable, power output. These should be short, hard workouts, and gauging your effort is a good idea. A simple way of doing this is by using a heart-rate monitor. High-end fitness is not easy to attain, so forgo volume for intensity. Add longer workouts as race season approaches.
  3. Include core strength and flexibility – Hit the gym, park, or home gym for some strength exercises, which will make you stronger and translate into better race performances when the tri season begins. Many studies have backed up the importance of strength training for triathletes. Employ resistance training, bodyweight exercises such as pull-ups and push-ups, and spend time loosening muscles via thorough stretching.
  4. Cross-train – Specificity is vital in triathlon as it is in most sports. If you want to swim, ride, and run faster, then you should train your swim, ride, and run. That said, use the winter time to mix up your training. Run or ride some trails on the mountain bike, hit the slopes with your x-country skis or snowboard, pull out the hockey stick, or skates. Consider trying something fresh and new such as hot yoga, pilates, or meditation.
  5. Build family time into workouts – Sometimes we forget or don’t make time enough to do this during race season. But when the pressure is off, take the family with you on outings, such as pushing the stroller around the park with your spouse if the weather allows, taking the family to the rink, or hiking in the backcountry together. Everyone will be happy for these adventures. 
Forget pure tri fitness during the winter and search for balance in your life. Look at your training from a different perspective and allow spontaneity and freedom in your workouts. There will be plenty of time over coming months where hitting specific fitness targets and logging mileage goals are the name of the game, but that’s not for now. Recover. Rejuvenate. And be better for it in the long run.