Taper, Taper Time!

This week a large portion of my athletes started their taper for the upcoming half marathon.  I have touched on tapering before but since I have been sending out lots of information on this topic, it reminded me that there is never anything wrong with some reminders on the do’s and don’ts of tapering.

Do Rest-  Now is the time to relish in all of the hard work you have put in during your training.  You have pushed your body pretty hard and the taper phase is the treat your body needs.  This rest time helps your body repair and load up for your upcoming race.

But Don’t Turn Into A Slug-  Rest is one thing.  But this is not the time to completely turn everything off.  While your body needs time to recover and get ready for the race, it does not need a total break.  In fact, kicking your feet up and sitting on the couch for the next two weeks will be detrimental to your performance.  As with anything in life, it is all about balance.

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Do Hydrate and Eat Well-  Hopefully you have been hydrating well throughout your training.  So this part shouldn’t be very difficult.  But sometimes when we aren’t running as much we forget that our bodies need a lot of water.  By hydrating throughout your taper your body will be all set for race day.  Dehydration is one of the biggest factors that leads to cramping, stomach issues, and the dreaded wall.

This is also a great time to eat healthy foods that will help you perform well.  Lots of fruits and veggies along with protein are great.  And while you do need some carbohydrates you do not need to carbo load.  No, you do not need giant plates of pasta every night for dinner.  In fact, you likely do not even need that the night before your race.  Carbs a few days before a long endurance run are helpful.  But for a 5k, 10k, or possibly even a half marathon you do not need to stockpile carbohydrates.

Don’t Eat Like You Did During Training-  Oh this part about the taper just plain stinks.  Your hunger is still going wild.  Your body still wants you to feed it like you did when you were burning thousands of calories a day doing long, hard training runs.  Reign it in my friend.  Be aware of what your body needs.  It can be easy to pack on a few pounds during the taper and that can make you slow and sluggish!

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Do Rest Like a Champion-  Sleep is one of your best tools of training.  A good night’s sleep (or several good night’s sleep) can really improve your training.  Especially as you get closer to race day make sure you are logging 7-9 hours, or whatever your body prefers.  Know that you will likely have a hard time sleeping the night before the big day.  But a few nights of good sleep leading up to it will get you through.

Do Stick to Your Plan-  Don’t panic and start trying to make up for lost time.  Sure you missed that 15 miler a few weeks ago.  But throwing it in now is not going to help your run.  In fact, it will likely leave your body more exhausted.  At this point your best bet is to stick with the remainder of your training plan and trust that it will get you through.

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What is your best tapering advice?

Taper Land

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!”

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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!

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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.

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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!

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