First Marathon Series Part 6: The Taper
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Ahh, you’ve made it through the training and now it is time to cash out the fitness account that you’ve been depositing into nearly every day for weeks. This should be a time to be excited, but for many, it’s a time to completely lose your mind!
Many refer to this as the taper FREAK OUT!
It doesn’t have to be that way.
With any of our marathon plans, you’ll see a taper of 10-14 days. By most people’s definition of taper, a better word is probably you peak for 10 to 14 days. I say that because a lot of people argue that we don’t taper. Anyway, when you think about the purpose of a taper, it’s pretty simple, right? We are cutting back from the hard training we have done in order to be completely rested and to rock and roll.
Done right, and you can improve your performance by 2-3%.
Done poorly, and not only will you reap the benefits, you’ll actually lose some fitness! So let’s make sure we do this right!
The biggest mistake I see people make is cutting way too much from their training during the taper.
Think about when we are building your training- what’s the number one thing people tell you? Don’t add too much too soon! Well, the opposite is true when tapering. If you take away too much too soon, it’s detrimental. You’ll probably feel sluggish like you got too much sleep. Now, cutting too much can come in several forms. One is just straight up cutting their weekly mileage. This is the no-brainer, but when we start chopping away mileage, we tend to start cutting out days we are running and the intensity we are doing. If we do this for more than a couple weeks, then not only do we feel sluggish because we are out of routine, we can actually start to detrain! To me, the key to cutting back is smaller percentages in mileage and workout frequency, but maintain your daily intensity.
When we start cutting back mileage and workout frequency, we tend to think that we should automatically feel like a million bucks. When we don’t, we tend to think something is wrong. Personally, I feel like the more we keep our routine (even if we modify what we do on those days), we minimize this. Needless to say, the old phantom aches and pains always seem to show up in the last couple of weeks. You may find yourself wondering why your left big toe all of a suddenly hurts for no apparent reason. Chances are, it’s nothing. I don’t have a scientific reason why this happens but it does. I think it’s one of those things where we are hyper-aware. Think about coming back from an injury and you are in your first few runs back. You are constantly thinking about the injury and if it’s ok. We know it’s healed, but why do we keep feeling it? The same thing here we are just going through every joint and muscle, making sure it’s ready to perform in a few days.
The third biggest concern I see is nutrition.
This is tricky because it’s my experience that a lot of runners aren’t eating enough of the right foods at the right time. Many times, they just aren’t eating enough in general. When you get to the taper, they cut it back even more because they aren’t “training as much” and they really do themselves a disservice. Now should be the time to make sure the muscles have the fuel they need to recover from the months of training and to allow you to perform on race day. The flipside of that is people will sometimes start the carboload a little early and find themselves packing on a few to many pounds over the last two weeks. To me, the best thing to at this time is to eat to what the day calls for. Mainly I am talking about the right amount of calories. Short day = less calories and a long day/SOS = more calories. However, I am also talking about the timing of your calories (especially for SOS), and also the types of calories. Once you get to 3-4 days out, then you can start carboloading, but don’t save it for the day and night before.
The last thing..
I want to talk about self-doubt. This may creep in throughout the course of the training but will be multiplied with the issues we have talked about above. The most common is that a run during the taper doesn’t feel as great as it was expected too and the feeling is that your fitness has suddenly disappeared. Then they start noticing the aches and pains, then they think they’ve put on ten pounds. Pretty soon their mental state has spiraled out of control. We’ve all been there and I’ve done it before, too. What’s worked for me is trying to recognize the negative thought as soon as possible and stop it with a positive thought.
Go back to a tough workout you nailed.
Think about a situation where you could have given up, but you found a way to get the job done. Recognize that what you are going to do is very tough and it is going to hurt, but also recognize that you have put the work needed to accomplish your goal.
The last couple of weeks is time to physically recover from all the training. It’s not a time to let you believe that your fitness has suddenly disappeared and you aren’t going to reach your goal. Keep your routine, while gradually cutting the work back. Eat to your needs until the last 3-4 days. Combat negative thoughts with positive thoughts and keep present with why you are running this race to begin with. Let the taper work for you so that you can reap all the benefits of the months of work you put it in and sacrifices you (and maybe your family) have made.