Taper Time!

Tapers! Image via alykat.

Let’s talk taper.  As I mentioned in my intro post, I am in the thick of my taper before toeing the 26.2 line for the 13th time at the Wisconsin Marathon.

Most runners scale back their running for the 2-4 weeks prior to their goal marathon.  This is critical to ensuring that we are rested and in peak form on race day.  There is some consensus on how it should be done, but it always leaves us runners thinking obsessing about it pre-race since we have more time on our hands then we are used to and we are getting fired up for our key race.  I have tapered many a good taper and have compared notes with many running buddies who have different taper styles than I.

So today, I am going to throw some of my observations and practices out there.  I am very interested if you have the same or different experiences.  Indeed, the taper was discovered by accident (an elite runner was sick and could not train up until race day, then all were amazed at how fresh he was; Voila = taper became a staple), so we may as well perfect it by sharing what we found did or did not work through our own trials and errors.

So, here are my top TWELVE taper observations: 

1.  I taper for 3 weeks.  This can be a huge debate.  A two week taper is quite the rage, and has been for several years.  A couple weeks ago, my coach suggested I run 20 miles 13 days out from my goal marathon and I almost had a heart attack.  No way!!  Way too close for this gal’s comfort.  Last 20 miler is 3 weeks out.   For some reason, my last longish run a week out is always hard.  My heart rate is elevated, things hurt, and it is just…hard.  This time is no different.  My 10 miler last weekend was not easy.  I am so glad I have one more week to strengthen up!

2.  Week one of taper never feels like a taper because the cut-back is so minor.  EVERY time I am shocked and even disappointed.  Even though I know it is coming.

3.  I try to fit in at least one tune-up race.  This is tricky because it either builds great confidence, or really can cause great concern.  This season, I have no tune-up races.  It is uncomfortable.  But my coach assured me that I am not training for those distances (usually 10K) anyway – I am ready.  Okay…

4.  I try to keep up my speed workouts and pick up the pace a bit.  Feel the snap in the legs, you know.

5.  But usually, there is no snap whatsoever at first.  To the contrary, log legs set in.

6.  I also get weird and sometimes severe taper twinges.  What, my third toe is in excruciating pain??  The top of my foot is suddenly killing me?  My hamstrings are about to snap? (Oh wait, that last one is sort-of normal for me)….  This time around it is my right ankle.  No clue why, but I suspect it will be fine in a couple of days.

7.  I sleep more.  On purpose.  Typically, I have to get up pretty early to get my runs in before the kids get on the bus for school and I have to work.  Not during taper.  I sleep in and run later in the morning or in the evening.  Time to catch up if I can.

8.  I always lose 2-3 lbs.  It is crazy.  Even if I don’t change my eating habits – and I tend to be starving at times during taper – I lose weight.  It is welcome, but a mystery to me.

9.  I check back at my running log for the season.  And for seasons past.  Multiple times.  Multiple different types of workouts/races/temperature/heart rates.  I compare them closely.  I NEED to find some affirmations that I am ready – or even better – more ready than I was during seasons I had break-out races.  Crazy?  Perhaps.  But this really works for me.

10.  I obsessively check the weather.  Seriously.  As soon as a forecast is available, I am checking it.  Have you checked Accuweather?  They will give you a full 3 weeks out.  Weather Underground?  The Weather Channel?  The local channels?  You better believe I am checking them all.  Every day.  Even though I know none of it is reliable at all until about 3 days out.  I’m watching and praying for perfect marathoning weather.  I can’t help it.

11.   I enjoy the down time – the break.  I had the familiar taper craziness my first 2-3 races, but now I embrace it.  I have been working my butt off.  It is my reward and prime down time to rest up, get stronger, and visualize success in my race.

12.  I start feeling awesome.  About 2 days before the race, everything starts feeling normal and fresh.  And I have an overwhelming sense of optimism and excitement set in.

Getting stronger!
How about you? What happens to you when you taper? Got any taper tips? I still have a little time to implement any tried and true tips!
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Mindi is a serial marathoner. She is a private practice attorney, wife and mom of two awesome (and super fast) boys, ages 12 and 14. She coaches Girls on the Run and is a big advocate of youth running.

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  1. You are so spot on with this post!! Very enjoyable read and I found myself pretty much laughing & nodding my head in agreement with every number, especially #6 & #10!!