I picked my “A” race at the beginning of the year, I trained for it during the past 6 months, and now it’s Taper Time. Runners who train for a long distance race understand what tapering is all about, but for many it’s the hardest part of their training. It’s the dreaded taper – those last few weeks leading up to the big race. After months of high mileage running, long workouts, hill repeats, speed work and tough schedules, it all comes to a screeching halt.
We are anxious about our upcoming race, and all of the sudden it feels like we are letting things slip through our fingers. You often hear complaints during the taper about gaining weight or being afraid of losing the fitness they have worked so hard to achieve. Mastering the final few weeks before the race is trickier than it seems.
Tapering before a race has many benefits for our body as well as our mind. It allows our muscles a chance to repair, as well as increase its glycogen. Another benefit is reducing the risk of overtraining. After months of hard work, we want to show up on race day with legs that are fresh and rested, not tired and heavy.
A balanced taper should consider important elements like duration, weekly mileage, and key workouts. The duration of your taper can vary but the end goal is to arrive at the race well-rested and feeling strong. Some runners may taper for two or three weeks while others may find that a 10-day taper works better for them. The taper is important not just for our body to recover but for our minds to rest. We need time to focus on our race and make sure we have everything in order; our nutrition, gear, shoes, crew, and pacers. Look over your travel details, the course description, aid stations, drop bag points, and packing your gear. Taking care of these details during the taper will allow your mind to rest and relax in the last few days before the race.
Most all tapers will have a reduction in weekly mileage. How much we reduce our mileage may depend on how hard our training has been and how we feel going into the taper period. If you have a coach, they will plan the taper according to your overall training schedule. Otherwise, it’s common to reduce your mileage by around 20% a week starting about two to three weeks out from the race. You should experiment with what works best for you. While we reduce our mileage we may still include some key workouts such as hill repeats, intervals, or other specific runs. We want to maintain our fitness but keep our legs feeling loose as well as getting some rest.
So how can we make the dreaded taper time be more exciting for the runner? The fact that our long-awaited race is quickly approaching brings its own level of excitement. But this may also be a good time to experience a little extra pampering. Getting a massage or a pedicure can be a treat and also work out some of the knots. This might also be a good time to catch up with friends or family members you haven’t seen during your busy training season. Just relaxing or enjoying a good distraction like a movie or book can take your mind off the taper. Life is often hard to balance, and this could be the time to put a little more balance back into it.
The race will be here in no time and the taper will quickly be a thing of the past, but it could be the very thing that kicks off your race with your body feeling ready and strong.
Published September 2017