Reducing your training before race day can improve your performance greatly, it helps the body recover from the training you have done in preparation for the race.
During hard training your body is under a lot of extra pressure, for example carbohydrate stores will be lower and having more rest will give them chance to restore so you can start the race on full power (see nutrition section for more ways to increase your carbohydrate store and why this is important). This is only one of the many benefits of a taper, others include improved immune system function, muscle repair, and restoration of everything else that is depleted while undertaking a high mileage.
The idea is on race day you stand on the start line feeling fresh and ready to go.
Tapering does not mean stopping! I would not reduce the frequency of your training sessions because you don't want things to switch off and become lazy, but you do want to decrease the quantity of the sessions whilst trying to maintain the intensity.
It's important you maintain your speed work up until the last week before your race and then on the last week just run within yourself, putting the emphasis on feeling good. Practice some race pace reps below race distance so you know the pace you need to set off at but ensuring you are not depleting your body by doing anything too long.
One week before the race all the work has been done and the runs are just to keep things switched on, unfortunately last minute cramming of training is not going to improve your performance and is more likely to just tire you out and leave you drained on the start line.
If you are tapering for a marathon they recommend up to 3 weeks of reduced training, slowly reducing distances run but maintaining pace.
3 weeks before the marathon you should reduce your mileage by roughly a quarter, training will still be important so you don't want to drop off altogther but make sure your pace stays the same despite the drop off in miles done.
With two weeks to go take another quauter off your mileage so you will be doing roughly half of what you did in your hardest training week (4 weeks before your marathon). Take out any reistance work you have been doing like hills or weight training so you're are not putting too much strain on the body.
One week to go the work is done and it's just a case of ticking over keeping the brain active, stop all strenuous workouts like speed work, and eat well.
Written by Laura from our Leeds, Headingley shop.