If you are training for a fall marathon, you are no doubt either in taper mode or about to hit your taper. The “taper” is the last 2-3 weeks of training where you begin slowly reducing your weekly mileage and allowing your body to recover from months of heavy training. The taper is key as it will allow you to go into your race rested, strong and ready.
Whether it is your first or 20th marathon, I have some insights to help you maximize the benefits of your taper.
1. The First Week You Won’t Feel Like You are Tapering. At all. I always get excited when I put in my last really long run and cap off the high volume week that inevitably preceeds the taper. I think: Sweet! I finally I get to rest. But the truth is, the cut back the first week isn’t very substantial and you are still tired from that long run and high volume week. So don’t expect to be feeling fresh during week one of taper. And don’t panic if you are feeling a bit exhausted and beaten down.
2. You May Not Actually Feel Rested At All Until Just Before the Race. After the first week, you’ll definitely feel the drop in volume and length of your long run. But your legs may begin feeling like logs. And you may start having all sorts of weird aches and pains. This is okay. In fact, I think it goes to show how much our body really needs the rest and recovery to be at its strongest on race day.
3. You Need to Clean Up Your Diet. If you haven’t started making sure you are eating right, now is the time to do it. Make sure you are making healthy choices. Cut out (or at least cut down on) the junk food and alcohol. Focus on more whole foods and nutritious choices.
4. Don’t Restrict Your Diet Though. If you are simply starving during the taper, don’t tell yourself that you can’t have an extra snack simply because you are not running as many miles. Your body needs fuel to recover, and one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to be overly restrictive during this critical time. This is particularly true for the week leading up to the race.
5. Sleep. Go to bed a little earlier and sleep in if you can. Hopefully your lighter training mode will give you a little more flexibility.
6. Don’t Pick Up a New Sport to Compensate. Just because you have more free time doesn’t mean you should sign up for a new boot camp class or start cycling like a mad woman. You NEED to rest. If you start something new in the weeks before the race, you will stress your body and inhibit recovery. You may even injure yourself.
7. Cut Back! Seriously. Don’t decide you simply can’t take tapering and run a 20 miler the weekend before the race. You need your rest/recovery time and you may seriously jeopardize your race by neglecting the taper. Embrace it. You’ve worked hard for months. Enjoy this time.
8. Don’t Freak Out. It is easy to get edgy as you have more time on your hands and the anticipation of your big race looming. You have done all the work and your primary goal is simply to rest up, recover, and get into a great mental groove. Look over your training log and see how much you’ve progressed. Review the course map and figure out your race strategy. Find your confidence and go with it.
If you are tapering too, chime in here with your own taper truths!