This blog post is nearly two years old, but I thought I would republish it for some friends who are racing this coming weekend. Sometimes taper is the hardest part of training. I managed a 21 minute marathon PR after this particular piece was written.
Runners do this thing called “taper” in the weeks leading up to goal endurance race. Tapering is essentially a decrease in weekly miles run that allows for repair of muscles, storage of extra glycogen, and amply recovery before race day. It has been shown to increase performance somewhere between 2-8%, depending on how the tapering is done. The most effective tapering plans take into account a runners peak mileage, the length of the race, and the runner’s experience and goals. Plans that decrease intensity along with mileage have been shown to be far less effective than those that decrease mileage but maintain intensity.
But, all that said, that is not really what this post is about.
This post is about Taper Madness. It’s about what happens to your brain on taper.
During the taper period of a training plan, you have so much time to fret. Not only are you keenly aware that the race is 2-3 weeks away (or less), but you also have all this extra time on your hands that you otherwise would have spent running. So, if you are anything like me and many of the other runners I know, it is the perfect time for self doubt to worm its way into your mindset.
I feel you have to combat this early. If you have a training journal, now is the time to pull it out. Look back through the comments you made on specific runs, remember the ones where you felt unstoppable, and banish the self doubt with the solid proof of the training you put into this race.
You can also fight the self doubt through preparation, which leads me to…
Clothing and Accessory Anxiety
Should you wear a singlet? a tech shirt? compression? no compression? what about your Ipod, do you want to bring it? When it comes to assuaging fears on the “race day outfit”, the best remedy is to test the options out. The taper period is the perfect time for this. The weather is likely close to about what it will be on race day, so experiment with the clothes and electronics you want to bring on the course.
I had thought I was going to wear one of my favorite singlets this time around; however, when I finally got to trying it out on a longer run, I discovered that there was an area of chaffing behind my arms. Use your taper runs to make sure you are not discovering a chaffing source on the race course.
Against Your Intuition Intensity
REST is the word most people seem to think of when they think of tapering for a race. And while rest is an important aspect of tapering, too much rest can lead to a runner feeling flat on race day. You have go against the belief of rest: you have to maintain intensity in your workouts. This means still doing strides and [YES!] track workouts, too. Your mileage decreases significantly but your intensity only gets cut back moderately, and mostly by doing less, not by doing it a lot slower or not at all.
Sudden Onset Hypochondria
Did I just feel a tweak in my shin? Is it still hurting? What if I do this? Still hurting? Is it really hurting, maybe not? OMG a shin splint, it’s GOT to be a shin splint!
[10 minutes later]
Ok, it’s not hurting anymore. It’s not a shin splint. But what about my ankle?! I feel something there….
[continues for 2 solid weeks]
Sadly, I cannot help you with this one. I often suffer from this myself, and I tell myself that being an athlete makes you hyper in tune with your body already. Race nerves couples with running less is bound to make you anxious that any little twinge might affect your race. My best defense for this is to monitor how it feels during the next easy run and try not to worry so much!!!
EATING ALL THE FOOD
If any one area of taper madness takes extreme will power, this is the one. The big one. Your weight and your training are the two controllable factors that have significant impact on race performance.
During tapering, a runner may run 10-40 miles less per week than they do in other training phases. At a conservative 80 calories per mile, that is 800 to 3200 less calories being burnt each week, and, for most people, this number is too conservative. If you don’t lower calorie consumption as you train less, you will gain weight during your taper and affect your overall performance.
Using a calorie tracker like myfitnesspal.com can help you maintain an even calorie intake and output during taper madness.
If all else fails, focus on the positives of the taper weeks. Sleep through your urge to run too much, have fun purchasing and testing new race gear, and enjoy some swift but shorter workouts in weather that, hopefully, will be very similar to your race. And refuel smart… back away from that third breakfast….