It is often said that tapering is the hardest part of training. Even for the elites, the huge reduction in mileage right before your race performance is mentally challenging. The main idea behind tapering comes from resting your muscles, seeing cardiovascular benefits such as increased red blood cell count and VO2 max, and topping up your glycogen stores in preparation for race day. Instead of freaking out about how many miles you are NOT running before race day, try and look at how far you have come in your training over the last few months! This is a little hard for me because I missed a lot of my peak training due to a glute tear. Even after I was back running I couldn’t do all of the speed workouts because I wasn’t fully healed and putting stress on my glute felt terrible! I just have to remember that this is ONE race and healing your body is always better that wrecking it. I am running for life not for one day 🙂
Tapering can be anywhere between 1 and 4 weeks, depending on the individual. I chose the usual time frame of 3 weeks. After my 21 mile long run last weekend, I started to decrease my mileage. I ran about 90% of my maximum mileage, and will further decrease in these next two weeks. Week 2 of the taper will be about 70% of my maximum mileage and week 3 will be run at about 50% with the final day being race day!
One of my MAJOR taper goals is SLEEP. It can’t be said enough that the best form of running recovery is sleep. I will go a week or so on 6 hours of sleep a night and wonder why I am feeling so tired during my runs or why I am completely exhausted after an easy 5 miler. Looking back to my sleep patterns I can safely say that there is a definite link. When I get 8-9 hours of sleep I feel like a rockstar. It won’t be the reduced runs that need major recovery this week, it will be the 14 weeks of training previous to this week that requires the rest.
Another great thing about the taper? Carbs. In the week leading up to the race it is important to make sure you are getting enough carbohydrates. I think there is a big misconception about what carbo-loading means. It doesn’t mean increasing calorie intake to have tons of energy on race day… it may even mean decreasing calorie intake due to a reduction in exercise… but carboloading means increasing the percent of carbohydrate macronutrients in your diet. My preferred source of carbohydrates: oatmeal. Wait, is chocolate a carb?
Increasing the amount of complex carbohydrates will top up your glycogen stores and leave your cells ready for race day. For each ounce of glycogen that is stored by your body, it also stores 3 ounces of water, so light weight gain is normal for a taper.
A couple of articles, here and here, talk about the science and importance of the taper. In general, it is a personalized reduction in exercise to leave your body rested and ready for race day. Our bodies thank us for the taper…our minds, not so much. It’s hard to reduce your mileage, especially when you start to feel rested closer to race day. The important thing for me will be not worrying about how much my injury brought down my training, not thinking about how many speed workouts I DIDN’T do, and not stressing about having a goal pace for the marathon and just appreciating being able to run it!
- SLEEP. Lots of it.
- Eat right… you can’t out-train a poor diet!
- Don’t stress… easier said than done.