With the Boston Marathon two weeks away, spring marathon season is upon us. Runners competing in the Boston Marathon are currently in a “taper” phase: a period of reduced training volume leading up to the marathon. The theory behind a taper is that after 12-15 weeks of training, a few weeks of reducing one’s running volume (fewer miles) while keeping up some of the intensity or pace will help the athlete be more recovered going into race day and perform at a higher level. Significant research supports the efficacy of a taper. Specifically, marathon runners who adopt a more structured, longer taper (three weeks) perform better on race day than those who adopt a shorter taper (one to two weeks).
What about strength training? Of course, strength training throughout a marathon training block is a key element of both injury prevention and performance enhancement (one of the biggest mistakes a marathon runner can make is to forego strength training during the months leading up to race day). To taper our strength training leading into a marathon (or a half marathon that we really want to perform well in), we should discontinue strength training for a two-week period prior to the marathon. Being fully rested and recovered from training (both running and strength training) is paramount to capitalize on many months of training.
When tapering for an important race, a runner should continue to strength train with a high level of intensity until a 10-to-14-day period before the race – with little or no change to the strength training program. This two-week period allows the runner to recover completely from the last strength workout but is not a long enough period of time for the benefits of strength training to diminish. The two-week recovery optimizes both strength and recovery. More specifically, the last total body strength workout should take place approximately 14 days prior to race day. An upper body and midsection workout can take place seven days before the race.
The result? On race day your legs will be strong, enduring, injury resilient, and able to run at race pace while utilizing less oxygen.