You just got done with peak week, and probably relishing in proudness for crushing your longest week of training (as you should be). But when your taper week comes along, you notice your training is a third, or half, less volume than it was before. You’re getting less sunshine, less endorphins, and starting to question if it is all going to work out. Does this sound familiar to you?
It happens, and to more people than you think. As humans, our minds love routine. Breaking the running routine can take its mental toll. You’ve spent the last um-teen weeks training hard, accomplishing new milage each week and crushing workouts, and then, it starts going backward. That lack of feel-good endorphins and new weekly accomplishments can take a mental toll and cause taper week to feel dreadful.
Let’s cover some things that will get you through tapering and into race day feeling re-invigorated and ready for a day to remember.
Why Tapering is Important…
Over your training blocks, your body has done lots of breaking down, which is also essential for growing stronger. Your muscles have substantially less glycogen store in them compared to when you are fresh and fully recovered. Consistently pushing high milage and/or hard workouts can decrease your immune system’s ability to keep you healthy. Your electrolyte stores and hormones have likely changed over tapering. You adrenals may be fatigued after a long training block, leaving you with a decreasing amount of energy. Finally, those sore muscles need time to repair and strengthen.
Tapering allows all of this various repair to take place. Research shows that tapering can increase your race day performance by 3%, with potentially up to 6%.
…And How to do it Right
Quality over quantity is what will matter with taper miles. Keeping current with some speed work while in taper will prevent your legs from feeling flat on race day. Renowned coach and researcher Steve Magness has found that muscle tension is a factor in how fresh or stale our legs may feel on race day. Our muscles always have some tension, and some tension is a good thing. Slower than average miles means your muscles aren’t “lengthening” as much as they are used to. This reduces the tension that adds pep to your step, or the ability to make quick, explosive movements. By reducing volume but still doing some faster speed work, you can keep some of that good tension in your muscles to maintain mobility and prevent that flat feeling on race day.
Sleep Means Repair
When we are awake, and especially being active, our bodies tend to be in a catabolic state; the state of breaking down muscle. While we need to break down muscle in order to get faster, stronger, and to gain endurance, it is equally important to allow muscle to build back up. Sleep is a prime time for our bodies to convert over to an anaerobic state and release additional hormones that allow for us to build muscle back up and recover. Of course, sleep can also lead to other benefits like reduced stress, a sharper mind, and more energy throughout the day.
Nutrients are a Necessity
There are two parts to this one. By this time, you are a calorie burning machine that cannot be stopped. Awesome. You should definitely keep eating and listen to your body if it is telling you it is hungry. However, now is as important as ever to eat clean and healthy. Keep up on your plants, healthy fats, and clean proteins. Your body is relying on these nutrients to build back up. It is okay to put on a couple or few extra pounds during taper, especially in those final days where carbo-loading kicks in. A carbohydrate is part water. Carrying a bit extra water and glycogen is exactly what your body will want for fuel and hydration on race day.
Plan and Visualize Being a Champion
Use your taper time to read and research more about your upcoming race. This will allow you to strategize what you will do at various points of the race and allow you to have a more efficient race day.
Find videos or photos online (YouTube, or searching tags on Instagram) of the race. Picture yourself in these locations. What will it feel like to be here? What do you anticipate needing at this point in the race? Visualize yourself having a good race and crossing the finish line with your hands in the air.
Look at Your Trail of Progress
It can be tough to see miles come down in tapering. Maybe you are only doing 10 miles for your long run this weekend. But think back… when was the last time 10 miles was your scheduled long run? How did that 10 miles feel? You’ve come a long way since then and have many miles and new levels of fitness beneath you. Think back of your proud moments in training. Compile these in your mind and apply them toward the race ahead of you. You can do it!
In conclusion, the taper is where the magic happens. Now is a time to be patient. You’ll be back out there feeling stronger than ever and staring down the finish chute before you know it.
What are your thoughts on tapering? What tricks do you use to break the taper funk? Leave a comment below!