The time has finally come! You have put in immense amounts of time and energy into your training and now it is time to taper!
The point of a taper is to run just enough so you avoid feeling flat during your race, but not run so much that you have a hard time recovering before your big event.
I personally HATE tapering. I am a person who loves the training process even more than racing so taping means time away from my favorite part of running. I also have a lot of physical energy, so I tend to feel really antsy during race week. BUT it’s an important part of respecting recovery before a race so that your tissues can build back up and become stronger, and so you can mentally rest and re-energize so that you can push hard on race day.
When to start your taper
This really depends on the person. Some people do better with a longer, gradual tapers that starts 3 weeks before their race, while other people do better with a 2-week taper where the miles drop pretty quickly the week before and the week of the race.
Here are 5 things to avoid during your taper
Filling that time with work or other stressful activities: Mental stress will interfere with your overall recovery and will lead to you feeling mentally drained on race day.
Sitting around more and being completely inactive: We are meant to move! So doing absolutely nothing during taper weeks will lead to you physically and mentally feeling sluggish. Along with that, we want to avoid not running at all the weeks before a race. Doing some running helps remind the body what we want it to do on race day and helps to prevent runners from feeling flat or like they don’t have a nice pep in their step on race day. With that said, this is NOT A TIME TO "MAKE UP MILES." The focus is on REST AND RECOVERY, so if you missed some training miles during the previous weeks, put it behind you and move on.
Eating too much or too little: You are running less, which means burning less calories. Be mindful of not overeating so you do not show up to the race feeling sluggish. With that said, UNDER EATING or trying to lose weight during race week is a recipe for poor performance on race day. Food is fuel and you want to have energy on race day!
Doing new exercise: This is not the time to start a new exercise routine, try out a new class, do heavy lifting, HIIT training, or intense cycling workouts. Doing something new increases the risk of injury and the likelihood of feel sore for your race. Along with that, doing intense workouts leads to the body needing to work hard to get you 100% recovered before race day. Our bodies only recover so fast, so it’s not worth it to do intense workouts and risk being sore, fatigued, or injured on race day. If you want to do a speed session before your race, make sure it is 10 days out from race day so that you body has enough time to recover.
Spending a ton of time obsessing over the race: Mental stress can lead to physically feeling unwell or fatigued. Our bodies and minds are directly related, so extra mental stress can impact us physically.
Trying to cram in last minute fitness gains: This is not a time to try to "make up" miles or do other things that are extremely taxing on the body (like heat training, fasting, going on a detox, etc.). All meaningful fitness gains are done! Anything you do from here will likely lead to you feeling burnt out and fatigued on race day vs strong, fit, and mentally ready to go. LESS IS MORE during a taper!
Now, here are 5 things to do during your taper
See friends or family you haven’t seen for a while, especially people who don’t run! Training is often very time consuming for people, which means missing out on socializing with our favorite people. Taper weeks are a great time to catch up on missed socializing!
Spend more time doing a different hobby: I love to knit! If you don’t have a hobby, then start one. It’s not great for your overall health and wellness to only have one hobby. What if you get injured? Then your one hobby is gone! Read more, catch up on a Netflix show you want to watch, cook recipes you have been meaning to make but take a longer time to cook, etc. Again, fill your time with things you enjoy or have been wanting to do but haven’t due to lack of time.
Go for walks or light bike rides: A taper does not mean that you must sit around and do nothing. You will physically and mentally feel better if you get some movement in!
Get out to local events: Farmer’s markets, city events, outdoor attractions, etc. Running tends to take up a lot of our time, so this is a great time to get out and do other things!
Work on your mental game: Tapering means spending less time working on the physical aspects of doing well for a race, but what about the psychological aspects? Your mental prep for the race is just as important as the physical. Take this time to use imagery to walk through the highs and lows of the race and how you will manage the lows. Work through any negative self-talk that you have around your running. This will help you truly perform your best on race day.
Prepare for the race: A lot of runners go into a race totally blind of the details of the race. Taper weeks are a great time to do some prep work! Read over the race website. Check out the course details, know how far apart the water stops/aid station stops are. What pre-race requirements are there? Do you have to take a shuttle to the start? What time will you have to wake up? If you are going to have to wake up super early, you might want to consider adjusting your sleep schedule slightly so that you feel fresh at the start of the race. What does the elevation profile look like? Check out past finishing times to create a realistic goal for race day. For ultra runners, this is a great time to organize your race essentials into small baggies or draw string bags (and label them with the aid station's name) so you and your crew know exactly what you will need during each section of the race.
Some special considerations: If you are doing a race at higher altitudes and you live at a lower altitude, taper time is a great time to get out to the race early (if possible) and do some very easy exercise to help you get acclimated. For those of you doing heat training, this is NOT a time to cram in a ton of heat training. You will likely show up to the race feeling physically depleted if you do this since heat training is very taxing on the body. If you did a proper heat acclimation schedule and started the process before your taper, then you want to add in "re-acclimation days" during your taper. This might look like 2-3 sessions the week before your race and 1 session 3 days before race day.
Happy taper weeks everyone!