SPECIFICITY OF THE TAPER - RUSSIAN MARATHONERS
Velikorodnih, Y., Kozmin, R., Konovalov, V., & Nechaev, V. (1986). The marathon (precompetitive preparation). Soviet Sport Review, 22(3), 125-128.
The precompetitive activities of 30 Russian marathoners were analyzed after an important marathon in Vilnuse when it was thought that many of them would perform in the 2.10 - 2.11 region. However, despite previous very fast sub-60 min 20 Km races five weeks before the marathon, none of them came close to the predicted and expected levels of performance. Thus, a retrospective analysis of training was performed.
When training during the last four weekly microcycles it is best to stabilize the achievements of previous training. No attempt should be made to develop any last-minute gains (this was done by many athletes in the study).
The most common mistake was trying to raise the speed potential with the use of 400 - 1,000 m repetitions at speeds significantly higher than would be performed in a marathon race. All athletes who tried this speed work failed. It is felt it disrupted more than enhanced established performance capacity.
The successful athletes trained at the speeds that would be experienced in the race. Since a marathon has a variety of speeds, depending upon conditions, stage of race, terrain, and climate (wind and heat), one should train over that range rather than only at the single predicted average time. For marathons it was suggested to develop the average predicted speed and vary training between -8 - +10 sec around the mean in the first microcycle but gradually reduce the range to -3 - +5 sec by the last microcycle.
This leads to the concept of "performance range tapering." It involves considering the range of speeds to be performed in a race and then training across them all during a taper. One should not train outside that range because it is likely to be disruptive because of its lack of appropriate specificity. This is a relatively new concept because most tapers that are specific focus very restrictively on the average time and that may not be general enough to accommodate all the paces of the event. This retrospective analysis shows the foolishness of ultra-speed training which is commonly pursued in many sports. The specific range of performances are what should be practiced in a taper.
For a marathon, the authors suggest that the range of training intensities should be restricted over the last four weeks with the volume of work decreasing weekly. This way the athlete will be primed for a particular range of performance capabilities but will also be rested.
Implication. Exaggerated speed training in a taper for a marathon has no value for enhancing performance or preparing properly. The speeds of training should be restricted to the range that is likely to be experienced in the event but as the taper progresses even that range should be reduced further to about 50% of the original range. Rather than being exactly (one speed) specific, the concept of performance range tapering should be employed. Any taper speeds outside of those expected to be performed in a contest are likely to be destructive and predispose the athlete to poorer performances.
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