Tapering is 100% a necessity in training for a marathon. What is the most important thing to remember in those last few weeks before your race?
You are not going to gain any more fitness. So hammering your workouts will only hurt you. Stay within your prescribed pace zones. It takes a long time for a hard workout to even be internalized into usable fitness, so crushing workouts in the last few weeks will do nothing to help your race. Don't do extra. Don't go too hard on your workouts. Take your easy days super easy. Of course you will still have workouts, you'll need to maintain a level of intensity to stay fresh but you do not need to go above and beyond in these workouts. If the pace is set at 7:00, don't be rocking 90 second 400s.
It's not cool to cut out all your run days in exchange for rest days. Keep running the same frequency, but decrease mileage. Taking a surplus of rest days during taper will result in detraining. This is not the objective. We want to maintain the fitness level you have trained for but decrease energy expenditure and fatigue.
Research shows that progressively trimming your overall mileage over approximately 2 weeks to between 40-60% peak volume is most effective in maintaining fitness without detraining. I say approximately 2 weeks because although 2 weeks has been studied to be effective, some people need a little more time than that for the marathon.
The training objective of this microcycle is repair. Restore cardiovascular health after all of your hard efforts and longest long runs, restore glycogen levels, allow your immune system to strengthen, and rebuild muscles from the damage your hard work has caused.
In order to achieve those goals, it is imperative that you sleep, eat, and destress. Just because you are running less mileage, does not mean you should be taking in less food. Continue eating like you are training hard. Continue sleeping like you're training hard. This is all necessary to foster the repair, restoration, and replenishment your body needs to run well on race day.
Taper is typically what occurs right after peak weeks, and these weeks can compromise your immune system. It is common for people to experience cold like symptoms during taper time. Take care of your health and nutrition during this time to avoid getting sick.
Taper crazies? Yes, this is real. Many of us will overthink things and wonder if we have done enough, too much, not enough. If we let these anxieties dictate our actions, we may end up worrying too much creating unnecessary stress at a time when we should be relaxing; we may end up adding in too much cross training or padding mileage that we don't need to, resulting in more fatigue than necessary; we may end up going too hard in a work out and inadvertently causing an injury; we may start freaking out that our easy runs feel really hard and we're never going to be able to reach our goals. We have just changed our typical routine and lowered our training load. Despite these massive physical shifts, the biggest thing that might feel weird is your mind. This extra time and energy may allow for an increase in anxiety. This may present in myriad ways from checking the weather incessantly, to revamping your plan, to signing up for a "just in case" marathon. Figuring out ways to relax, stay calm, avoid over-analyzing everything is imperative.
The taper is your time to get centered, grounded, and prepared. You have already done the training. Now is the time to sharpen your sword, not to learn how to wield it. It is a time to organize your mind and ready yourself for action. It is the time for you to gently and carefully pull the sling shot back, and hold it steady extended before releasing it on race day. Okay, enough about tapering before I write another metaphor.