Today on the Doc On The Run podcast, we’re talking about whether or not you should taper or just continue training when you have soreness right before your marathon.
This is a simple question…Should you taper or should you continue training? This question does come up more than you would think. And I know most of us, like, what we’re supposed to do is sign up for a training plan, come up with a really good plan, a really good path to get us to the starting line and to the finish line during our race in the time that we decide and achieve our goal. That’s what we all want to do.
Well it doesn’t always work out that way, right? We have things that happen. We get sick. We get certain job responsibilities change. We have family things that happen. All kinds of things can happen that take away from your capacity to stick to your training plan. And when that happens, people want to try to stick to the volume of the training plan and all those workouts that are on the schedule, even if we have to stack them or jam them in at the end. You can’t really cram for a marathon. You have to prepare as you go along.
I do get this question frequently where people will say, “Well look, I’m not tapering because I can’t afford to taper.” Okay, what do you mean by that? So if you’re afraid your competition is going to beat you, again, a taper is part of the strategy to have a successful race. It’s not a thing that gives your competition the opportunity to catch up and jam in more workouts and beat you. That just beats them up. It doesn’t really help them beat you if they are not tapering and you are if you’re appropriately trained. But if you’re doing a marathon and you’re training and you’re ramping up and you’re doing periodized training and you really, like, you ramp up, you build up fitness, and then you drop back down your volume again to recover a little bit and then you ramp back up again. You develop more and more fitness over time.
Now after months of doing that, you can really need to get some additional recovery before the event so you’re actually as strong as possible during the event. That is the purpose of a taper, is to really get prepared physically to do your best, actually perform your best, on race day. And when that comes into questions when people have insufficient training. Sometime happens, you do something that gets you off course, you don’t train as much as you wanted or needed to, and then you basically are fearful and you think you should just skip the taper all together. Well the truth is that you can do pretty well in a marathon if you just have base fitness. So if you really blew it and you really haven’t been training because you’ve been sick or you’ve been traveling, you’ve been really, really busy, well then maybe you don’t need to taper. I mean maybe you’d be better served just doing some easy base training but then decreasing that volume a bit at the end. But maybe you don’t need a two or three week taper if you don’t have anything to tape from.
So if you haven’t been doing high volume, you haven’t done your long runs, you haven’t done speed work, you haven’t done the stuff you’ve supposed to been doing, well, in that case maybe it would be reasonable to not taper and to try to just keep some base level fitness all the way up to the day of the event and just like kind of race week just decrease your volume a little bit. Maybe that would make sense. But all this of course comes in relation to your risk for injury, right? That’s what I talk about all the time is how you can figure out how to keep training and racing even if you’re injured. That’s what the whole point of the podcast is, that’s the whole point of what we teach at Doc on the Run and what I teach physicians when I lecture at medical conferences. It’s not just to tell you to stop running.
So you have to think about what your actual goal is and what has happened to you and your training and your plan as you’ve gone along. So if you think you got an injury, the temptation is for people to take a couple of days off and then make up time between their injury and the event. Well that’s foolish, right? Because it’s not complicated. Whether you have a stress fracture, whether you have tendonitis, regardless of what the problem is, if you get injured and you just take a couple of days off and it feels better, well it’s probably not fully recovered. So if you go jam in a bunch of big time hard workouts or long workouts in those final few days or final week before your marathon, man, you are asking for trouble because you are going to potentially blow out that injury right at the very worst possible time, right before the event, where there is no way it’s going to calm down enough that you can actually make it through the event without really making yourself a lot worse and probably without even achieving your goal that would look anything like what you actually hope for and dreamed about.
You should always taper if you have been sticking to the plan, if you’re fully trained, if you’re fit, if you’ve really got all of your training in, you can taper with confidence. That’s really what this is about is you deciding whether or not you can actually taper with confidence. If you’ve done no training on the other end of that spectrum, well what are you going to taper from? You’re not tapering off anything because you haven’t done anything. You haven’t trained. You haven’t put in the work. You haven’t done the workouts. You haven’t done the long runs. So what’s the need for tapering? You know, you don’t have to recover from anything because you haven’t done anything.
And somewhere in between there is where most people fall in. They missed a couple of workouts here and there, they want to kind of extend it into that taper period, and that’s where you start getting into trouble. So you just have to think about that. And if you had any kind of injury and you extend your training into your taper period, you are really playing with fire. That part I don’t think anybody would disagree with. So you just have to decide, given your scenario, how much training you did and how closely you stuck to your plan, whether or not you can push your taper a little bit, or if you should skip it all together. But that’s something you’ve got to talk with your coach and you have figure out what you’re going to do.
Remember, the goal is to make it to the race, make it through in one piece, and then continue resuming in whatever training is and you have to think about what your goal is after that event to really make a clear decision.
If you have a question that you would like answered as a future addition of the Doc On The Run Podcast, send it to me PodcastQuestion@docontherun.com. And then make sure you join me for the next edition of the Doc On The Run Podcast!