I've been thinking again. I'd come up with what I thought was a pretty clever marathon taper and carboloading plan, but there were a few things that kept nagging me. 1) Ultramarathoners never carboload, but they always taper. 2) Some people who do a standard taper and load program end up feeling bloated and slow. 3) Some people take longer to recover than others; in particular, Dr. David Costill found that, no matter what he did, it took 10 days to fully restock his muscle glycogen stores.
Then it hit me. Once glycogen is bound in a muscle, it's stored there until used, so one could load much earlier. The standard carboloading procedure is too many big changes too close to race time for most people to adjust properly. I came up with a plan that one could use for tapering for a marathon or ultra that one could use with or without carboloading; just as diet and exercise are complimentary, so are carboloading and tapering.
(Legal disclaimer: This is stupid. Don't do this. Anyone who does this assumes risks that are completely unnecessary and cannot hold me responsible, as this is just a thought experiment and not something one should take seriously.... There, that should cover it.)
The full taper takes two weeks, but one should do one's last long run three weeks before race day if one's typical long run is 20 miles, four weeks before if one does 30 (and if one routinely goes longer than that, I'd recommend doing 30 on a hilly trail route for the last long run). The last two weeks, assuming a Saturday race, would look like this:
Sa: Short race of 5-10 miles (8-15K) done as a true all-out effort, followed by a long cool-down. One should run until one "hits the wall" in the cool-down and involuntarily slows. A half marathon race is as long as one could put here, as it might take two full weeks to recover from it. Putting a race here helps to find out whether or not one's really in condition. If one plans to carboload, starting after this run, one begins the depletion phase, eating fewer carbs than usual.
S: A moderately long run. The plan is to further deplete the muscles of glycogen. This could be 75-90 minutes, done comfortably.
M: Same as Sunday. By this time, one should have difficulty running as far or as fast as one wants, especially if not eating many carbs.
T: Very hard run, of about 90 minutes. One should try to do much of this at marathon pace or better. Included in this should be two or three all-out half miles, preferably up a steep hill, which will completely drain most fast-twitch muscle fibers (slow twitch having been taken care of the previous days). One can also add a few short sprints, downhill if one's accustomed to speedwork, to deplete the last few fast-twitch fibers.
Immediately following this run, one starts the carboloading phase. The greatest gains can be made in the first few hours, so I recommend taking in as many carbs as possible at this point. To do this with the least amount of possible damage (and this is actually medically a little dangerous), I drink as much as I can of a solution made of 8 ounces of corn syrup and 1/2 teaspoon table salt mixed into 1 gallon of water; the body stores water with glycogen, so it's important to get the liquid, but this can lead to hyponatremia unless the salt is added as well. I use the corn syrup because it's made entirely of the sugars that get made into glycogen and has little flavor when dilute. It works out to about 1000 calories per gallon, if one wants to use some other calorie source. One should be very careful if one does this, not pushing until one feels nauseous or one's stomach feels overfull.
Between 3 and 5 hours after the run, I continue the loading with solid carbs and some protein (the insulin spike caused by all the sugar also increase amino acid absorption into muscle). Pasta works well for me. After this, I eat as normal, when hungry, but try to keep the relative amount of carbohydrates high.
W,Th,F: 0-30 minutes of running, done easily. If carboloading, these are the days of relatively high carbohydrate intake. The carboloading phase ends with the following Saturday run.
Sa: Easy to moderate run, of about 90 minutes. At this point, one's muscles should be completely loaded and what one wants to do is maintain fitness until the race. One wants to get in some mileage on this day to get used to running well at the same time of day and same day of the week as the upcoming race. Fartlek or some easy strides, to keep one used to some faster running, is a good idea here.
S: easy run, maybe 60 minutes.
M: same as Sunday
T: Last fast run, a "dry run" for the race. One doesn't want to undo the loading by running too far or too fast. A good plan is to do a warm-up, then 2 or 3 miles of a race simulation (marathon pace, if that's the race; or if doing a trail ultra, on as similar a course as possible to the race and about the pace one expects to start the race), then a short cool-down.
W: 20-30 minutes, easy.
Th: 0-20 minutes, easy.
F: 20-30 minutes, easy.
If I've thought this through, it incorporates all the things one wants in a taper and avoids the common pitfalls.
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