Ah Taper Land. Are you picturing bright sunny skies, rivers of chocolate (or beer), and unicorns frolicking around? This Saturday as I ran with a few athletes to the finish of our 20 miler I greeted them and the rest of the group by saying, “Welcome to Taper Land!”
It’s a funny place. Some runners love to reach this point while others actually start to freak out. After spending three months running endless miles it can either be wonderful to suddenly watch your mileage plummet or it might send you into a panic. What do I suddenly do with all of this free time? How will I possibly be able to finish a marathon in a few weeks when I am barely running the week before the race?
No need to panic. This is the time to relax and seriously take care of yourself. First of all this is a great time to say hello to your family. They probably feel a bit neglected right now, especially in the early mornings when you are usually out pounding the pavement. Call up your friends and let them know that you still exist. Meet them for lunch and enjoy some carbs!
Once you enter the taper phase of your training it is essential that you relax and continue to trust your training. This phase is extremely important for getting you to the race healthy and recovered. No one wants to reach the start line feeling flat or tired.
The other day I was running with one of my athletes and she mentioned that she was feeling a bit frustrated and as if she had hit a plateau. Her body felt exhausted, her speed had somewhat declined and she just felt like she was in a running slump. I told her to relax and try to not get frustrated. When you get to the weeks leading up to your last major long run you are at the peak of your training. For months you have been gradually building up your mileage and by the time you reach your 20 or 22 mile long runs you have essentially climbed to the top of your running mountain. The only way to get there is to physically exhaust yourself, that is basically the point of working towards reaching the top. But then after you hit that peak, you get to slide down the back side of that mountain until you toe the start line of your race.
The taper is meant to give your body just enough time to rest and recover while still maintaining all of the advances you have made through your training.
This doesn’t meant that you should just lay on the couch and eat potato chips or guzzle beer until race day. Think active rest here. Do take some time to kick your feet up or enjoy a nap. But also get a few brisk walks in, go for some bike rides, or take a yoga class. You want recovered muscles, not atrophy!
This is also an important time to make sure you eat well and rest up. Many athletes end up sick during the taper. Our bodies tend to be more susceptible to colds and other bugs during this phase. So make sure you get plenty of sleep. Continue to really focus on your hydration as this will help your body to continue to repair and keep you race ready.
Nutrition is also essential during this phase. Continue to eat all of those healthy foods you have been fueling with. Make sure you consume lots of protein to help your muscles repair. Enjoy some carbs in moderation to allow your body to stock back up on its glycogen stores. Eat lots of fruits and veggies, especially anything bright red or green.
My own personal recommendation is to try and get your hands on some tart cherry juice. This stuff has been shown to work incredibly well as an anti-inflammatory. Earlier this summer I had a foot injury and instead of taking too many pain pills I gave this a go and now continue to take two shots of tart cherry juice per day or add a squeeze into sparkling water at meals. I found my preferred brand at Whole Foods.
Finally, this is also an important time to relax your mind. It can be very easy to start playing the “what if” game. What if I hadn’t skipped that five mile run a few weeks ago? What if I am resting too much or not enough? Relax! I say this a lot and I truly mean it, you have to trust your training. Trust that the taper will help you on race day. Trust that you have prepared for several months for this. You will finish and it will be great. No extra runs or workouts during this phase will make your marathon. The best way to get to that race at this point is to relax and look forward to the big day. Be calm and confident and you will be great!