Surviving the taper
Tapering is a necessary element of racing. To get ready for a race you must base build for endurance, strength train, and speed train. You must run, swim and bike various distances at varying heart rate efforts for specific amounts of time. What you also must do…taper. The length of the taper, as well as the length of the recovery depends on the length of the race. Let’s use the marathon as an example. A typical marathon taper is 2 weeks out from race day. All the training has been done. During the taper, it is time to scale back, rest up/store energy, and mentally prepare for the race. There will still be intensity, but the duration of your workouts will decrease. The week before the race you might do a 3 mile run, with speed intervals of only 90 seconds (whereas during peak training you were doing repeats as long as a mile, long negative split runs or runs holding faster than goal pace). After weeks and months of building speed, strength and endurance you become accustomed to long workouts. You see progress, you’re having fun. Your confidence is building. You are feeling strong and ready to meet your goal. As race day approaches, you go over your race plan with your coach, begin mental preparations and prepare your gear.
After all the hard training, it can be hard to scale back. Mentally and physically. Physically it is common to feel a little tired, sluggish, and hungry. Little aches and pain crop up here and there. Mentally it is time to be patient. The race is close, but not that close. You may start to wonder if you trained hard enough. You may doubt if you are ready. You may start to feel antsy or impatient. Resist the urge to add in extra workouts. The taper can be one of the hardest times for an athlete. You have extra time, but what to do with that time? Expending extra energy, especially in the few days leading up the race, isn’t generally a good idea. That leaves a lot of time to think. Now is not the time to let negative thoughts creep in. You did the work and it is time to trust in your training, trust in the process.
After 11 marathons, I’ve learned a thing or two about handling the taper. I can feel very anxious, and the need to fight the negative thoughts is great. I tend to feel sluggish and tired during the taper. Having gone through it many times, I have learned that this is normal for me and not to worry. Some ideas on how to get through the taper:
1) Go through your logs. Look at all the work you have done! Look at mileage, look at intensity. Read the logs and not just the ones where you felt really great. Challenging workouts are just as meaningful. Whether it was a long run, interval run, or a long trainer bike ride, these workouts made you stronger mentally and physically.
2) Watch inspirational movies. There are lots of great sports movies. Some of my favorites include “Prefontaine,” “Spirit of the Marathon,” “Vision Quest” and “Rocky.” Also look on YouTube for Ironman montages and finish line videos. There are great YouTube montages of sports movie scenes set to music, as well as quotes and inspirational moments.
3) Fine tune your nutrition and hydration. Make a plan for recovery. Recovery is a great time to make dietary changes. Research dairy-free or gluten-free recipes.
4) Think about your next goal. This doesn’t have to be set in stone, but kick around some ideas. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Some people like to have races set up, or ideas for next season. Goals can include setting a new PR, making dietary changes, weight loss, strength gains, or trying a new sport (triathlon for runners) or distance (go longer or shorter next time).
5) Visualize you race. Visualize yourself performing your best, feeling strong and having fun. Racing is always a powerful experience in which we learn and grow as athletes. Write down your thoughts in a race report so you have it to look back on for motivation, achievement and as a learning tool.
Be Healthy, Train Smart, Have Fun.