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A runner's diary: It's time for 'Taper Madness'

Runner Dave Emilio

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Dave Emilio is documenting his training for the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Oct. 16.

By the time you read this, I'll have just completed my longest and last long run of my training program: a 34-kilometre progressive run. That means starting out nice and easy, increasing the tempo slowly after every five km and finishing the last four to five km at race pace. It's a great training run that allows you to practise running at racing speed with tired legs.

Some runners go longer, but the law of diminishing returns says that really isn't necessary. It's the combination of each week's worth of training runs that enables you to complete the marathon. I have ventured longer in previous training periods, the longest being 40 km, but my two best marathon performances were a result of 34 km being my longest pre-race run.

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Generally, at the end of these long runs, I feel spent. We all do. But we know it's because we are not supposed to feel fresh due to the fact we ran four or five other days during the week. This is where the magic taper comes into play. The last two to three weeks of the training period are spent limiting the frequency and length of the runs while still maintaining the intensity. For me, the long runs drop from the 30-plus km range to 20 and 15 km distances for the final two Sunday runs.

Midweek runs will shorten and a couple extra rest days will replace some of the easy runs. The final week will be limited to a couple of maintenance runs to keep the legs loose. This allows us to rest up and be ready to go fast for the full distance on race day.

If you've trained for a distance race before, you know this time period well. We can go a bit stir crazy during this final segment as the body is expecting you to be doing more. Soon I'll get a bit antsy and begin to feel every little ache and strain. I'll worry I haven't trained hard enough or that I'll slip and fall, turn an ankle or somehow wreck all the training. As marathoners, we call it "Taper Madness."

All fears and anxieties aside, the three-week gradual taper works. I have tried a two-week taper as well as a single week, and I've even trained hard right up until race day – never again will I do that! Everyone is different, though, and my way may not be the best for others. But for the first time, I am feeling like I may have finally got this whole training thing figured out.

Stay up to date by following me on Twitter http://twitter.com/beachesrunner.

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