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Marathon training - taper and recovery from a physio perspective.

As an athlete you may have set yourself a task of finishing your first marathon, or perhaps you have a specific finishing time in mind. Either way hopefully you have a plan set out with number of sessions, distances and intensities best suited to your fitness level to reach these goals. Some people enjoy to read and learn how to properly prepare themselves for such an event, many people opt to obtain a specifically tailored program from an experienced coach. Whatever the scenario, it then becomes a balancing act between completing adequate training to reach your goal, all the while not over-training and risking injury.

High-Load weeks.

When building up to race day it is important to progressively increase your kilometres per week over a steady period, usually peaking approximately 2-4 weeks prior to the race. During the high-load phase, kilometres per week usually increase. The longer session for the week can be anything from 30-35 km, depending on the program. This is often the point throughout training when athletes most frequently present to Physiotherapy. When an athlete doesn’t have adequate endurance training, or begins sessions still tired, fatigued or sore from the previous session, niggles can begin to accumulate. Running gait can then deteriorate, resulting in a progressive increase in the stress on tendons and load-bearing bones.

Long runs during this stage should also be used to practice proper nutrition, hydration and pace setting. It is not advisable to try and complete these long training runs at race pace, but more ideal to take this time to become accustomed to running longer distances, and allow your body to adapt to this high endurance activity.

Recovery is Key, Listen to your body.

It is up to you to progressively increase weekly kilometres as preparation for finishing a Marathon safely. It is just as important to arrive at the start line feeling as fresh and physically fit as possible. Recovery during marathon training is vital for both health and performance. Over-training, or training beyond your body's capacity at this time will end in disaster.

These training programs don’t take into consideration your mental stress, physical requirements of your job, your nutrition, or what you are doing after a session to recover. Listening to your body at this stage is crucial. If you are physically tired it doesn’t make any sense to try and push through a 30km run on the back of a high load week. But it does make sense to look after your body through a number of  Self management strategies.

Recovery management may include

  • Active recovery
  • Ice baths/walking on the beach
  • Using a foam roller or spiky ball to loosen muscles

This is also often when a Physiotherapist or Myotherapist may be able to help with management of any tight muscles you are unable to treat. Addressing these problem areas early, will be vital to prevention of injury and dysfunction.

Taper Weeks

If you have been training hard and recovering well, your body should be looking forward to taper weeks. All of your strength, endurance, and interval training should have allowed you to reach maximum fitness 2 weeks prior to the race. Taper weeks allow your body to stay sharp but not overloaded.

Keys to taper weeks are:

  • Continue to listen to your body: There is an ideal taper but this isn’t a “one size fits all” so discuss with your coach or physiotherapist about how your body is feeling and make adjustments accordingly.
  • Slowly reduce your distances: Your body still needs to maintain fitness levels, but runs shouldn't be more than 10-15 km during this period. This close to race day you should have already completed all of your long training, so continue to reduce running distance into the final week during which running as low as 3 km is ok.
  • Pacing yourself: Even though these distances are getting shorter and you feel fresh and fit, you need to fight the temptation to run faster. These final sessions should be done at the planned marathon pace so your body can adapt to and maintain this tempo.
  • Continue self-management: with massage, foam roller, spikey ball, stretches, ice, beach etc.
  • Make sure your diet is correct leading into the race: Discuss with a dietitian or coach regarding appropriate nutrition for endurance running. Calorie intake and hydration levels are extremely important during training, and on race day.
  • Rest days: ideally 2-3 full days prior to race day along with adequate sleep.

An additional tool during Taper weeks is the use of an Alter-G treadmill.  At Recover Sports Medicine we have an alter-G treadmill, also known as an anti-gravity treadmill. This very versatile piece of equipment can be extremely beneficial throughout taper periods, and also for load management and rehabilitation through a stage of injury. Programs can be specifically designed based on percentage of body weight (resistance), speed, and running distance per session.

I hope this article has raised some helpful ideas to think about when designing your program. At the end of the day, a Marathon is a challenging and gruelling event to complete, but it is the training and preparation that goes in months beforehand that truly determine the experience.

Tyron Saunders
Recover Sports Medicine

If you would like to discuss your marathon training plans and recover with one of our senior physiotherapists, please call the clinic on 1300 858 774 or email contact@recoversportsmed.com.au

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