Mark Gillett

Come back frequently……

To taper or not to taper?

with 3 comments

Not much fat on those pins

This question does sometimes come up but most assume that tapering for the MdS is a must.  I personally think it is a mistake to taper, but this is not based on a lot of research but more on info read and experience.

I have always tapered and carbo loaded for Marathons and 10k races.  These races are completed in one go, require an intense amount of energy and in a relatively short period compared to the MdS. Unless, of course, you race in a deep sea diving suit which has been done in London!

My bible is the Lore of Running by Tim Nokes a great book with just about everything you need to know about our sport.  And I mean everything. Its certainly worth the money if you want to get training right. In the book it disputes tapering in many cases and gives recent evidence for and against but most definitely where ultras are concerned the evidence shows no benefit and maybe the opposite.

My take is that if you run a Marathon, you need to build up glycogen stores in the liver. The last week of tapering you starve your liver of carbs and in the last 3 days you let it gorge!  This way it takes on more than normal as its so “hungry”. Done effectively the theory is that you have more glycogen and so can get through that wall more easily and run faster right to the end.  This is in simplistic terms of course.

For the MdS, this would prove to be useless unless ou are able to taper and gorge for each day…. Your extra stores will only last for the first day and if not used will turn to heavy fat.  Any extra weight gained through tapering would then be just the same as packing extra in your back pack only spread over your body.

Essentially you will burn what you eat each day and little more unless you have miscalculated your needs. You do not need extra fat to burn and you do not need it to keep you warm as in arctic endurance endeavours.  Most runners will have around 15% + body fat anyway which is way more than enough to eat into should you need to through starvation. This I seriously doubt though. The top runners will run with around 5% body fat and I am sure they do not wish to eat into lean mass either so the way I see it most runners unless anorexic will have enough stores if they have the calorie intake in their packs.

Basically running lighter will be easier. You will be cooler and not need so much energy to keep you moving and keep you cool. Running heavy with too much fat stored takes more effort, keeps you too warm and your body will need to work harder to keep you going and cool you down

I hope your last few weeks are working out ok and keep running!  See you in Ouazazatte…..

Written by markgillett

March 11, 2010 at 8:57 am

Posted in Travel

3 Responses

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  1. Mark – Totally agree about the nutrition side of things, but surely tapering is multi-purpose, i.e. also to ensure you are ‘rested’ or actually more likely in most of our cases, to reduce the risk of over-training up to the event and early burn-out through exhaustion during the event?


    March 11, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    • Hi Richard and thanks for commenting.

      Before I ran it I would have said the same as you however having done it and tapered the first time, I felt awful when I started. Heavy – 11St 4 instead of 10st 10lbs – and I did not need to rest. The race was effectively the last week of my training.

      The week itself can prove quite restful in that when you finish each day you are sitting on your butt for a long time – 16 odd hours sometimes. The training is also not so intensive as say for a marathon. There are far more miles (I finished up with around 120 in my last two weeks) but they are softer miles. For marathon training it’s a lot more intensive with track sessions and threshold runs. If you add up the travel days and days in bivouac by the time you start you have not run for around 5 days anyway. Plus you eat extremely well for those days as you cannot adjust from when you were training hard.

      What I have noticed over the years is that people taper, put on half a stone, some more and then start the race not at their best running weight. Add to this the fact you are running in 40 degrees plus, you need to keep cool. Keeping cool is easier if you are very light. Your body does not need to work incredibly hard to keep cool under the extra body fat.

      One last factor is that the vast majority, say outside the top 200 walk at least 50% of it and only trot when they run so intense running just does not happen but heat management is essential.

      All of my words are through read research and observation so please only take them as that. It is my opinion at this stage.

      I hope this helps you and really I wish you all the best for your race.

      Kind regards



      March 11, 2010 at 8:15 pm

  2. am with you all the way, I kind of figure if you need to taper you have overtrained, just get as fit as you can, maintain it and tear into the race.. simples

    well thats the view from the back of the pack anyways


    March 15, 2010 at 4:20 pm

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