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August 30, 2011

The Taper

Written by Dena Evans

beach_running

One of the most important, but often overlooked, components of training for a goal race is the taper.  The hard work has been accomplished and all that remains is to rest and sharpen up. Confidently easing off the gas pedal and arriving prepared, yet rested at the starting line is a crucial component to racing success.  Here are a few things to consider when race day is in sight, but still a couple weeks away.

 

You don’t have to push hard all the way up to race day in order to preserve your hard-earned fitness.

Just as it is important to heed the scheduled call for recovery days in your regular training, the last 2-3 weeks of a half or full marathon training cycle is a singular opportunity to allow your body to be as rested as possible before going to the well on the big day.   While there have likely been times where you have had to push yourself to finish the last few miles of a long run or get out of bed when a hard session is on the schedule, enjoy the reduction of miles over these last couple weeks, reminding yourself that you have the physical ability to go farther and the mental confidence from those workouts that will carry you through on race day.

 

The last few weeks are a great opportunity to focus on healthy living as you prep for your race.

If it is difficult to keep your sleep habits as you would wish for months at a time, this is an opportunity to get maximum impact from a few weeks of slightly increased sleep.  Likewise, you can make a difference with a few weeks of healthier eating habits.

 

Many of us have too many obligations and commitments to live a daily life with the healthy habits we’d hope for, but many of us (and our families) can get on board for a few weeks as enthusiasm builds for race day.  Maximize the rest you are getting from shorter workouts with an extra half hour of sleep per night and increased hydration and healthy food choices.  This will allow you to arrive at race weekend without feeling the needing to cram hydration and nutrition concerns into a two day period when that may not provide the advantage you seek.

Keep your body in the training rhythm to which you are accustomed.

Tapering doesn’t mean change everything. What it does allow you to do is keep your body and mind focused while requiring less strain and allowing for more recovery.  Your training schedule will follow a similar pattern with slightly easier tasks.   Continue to take your workouts as seriously and resist the urge to over schedule your life now that you may have a bit more time to play with than in the last few weeks.  For example, continue to allow time for the stretching you were so diligent about when the workouts were really tough, instead of dashing off in the car now that the workout wasn’t as taxing.

 

As your body will require less fueling to accomplish these workouts, the temptation may be to continue eating as though your long runs are still at maximum length.  Consider your current fuel needs and adjust accordingly to allow yourself to maintain the spring in your step you are trying to gain by backing off the volume.

 

Use the taper to make final race day plans

The taper is a great time to break in the fresh pair of shoes you plan to use on race day.  This will allow you to make sure you are past any risk of blisters or other problems, but won’t put that much wear on the shoes before you need them to really go to work.  Similarly, consider your race day attire, pre-race food consumption, and mid race fueling.  While your workouts are a bit easier, you can let yourself make final experimentations with these things to ensure you aren’t showing up to race day doing something for the very first time.

 

Don’t worry if you feel “flat” during your taper

Feeling a bit sluggish even while you are doing easier workouts can be a function of many things, but is quite common with recreational or pro runners alike.  If you continue the good habits you have tried to implement throughout the training cycle, be mindful of your relative consumption as your volume decreases, and follow your schedule, you take confidence that you have done what you can.  Yes, your body is used to a different level of activity and that may leave you feeling a bit off.  This is why it is important to maintain a similar training rhythm so you can keep your body doing familiar tasks.  Once the gun goes off, your months of training won’t betray you, and next time, you’ll recognize that flat feeling if it occurs and be even more confident.

 

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