Anyone who has trained for a half or full marathon has endured the two-week period prior to race day in what we like to call Tapering. Some runners and walkers take the optimistic approach and celebrate this time. Others find themselves in a morass of restless angst. Regardless of where you find yourself on the spectrum, you've got to get through these 14 days in order to get to the start line.
If you're in our Spring marathon training program, you're days away from the beginning of the taper, with one long Saturday session standing between you and two glorious, messy, anxious, amazing weeks.
A taper is an essential part of training. After 14 weeks of intense and long miles, we need to give our bodies time to rest and prepare for the endurance test ahead. Runs now will be shorter distances and much lower intensity. Some runners, not understanding the benefits of true rest, will forgo the taper. These runners, however, put themselves at risk of injury and fail to rest the muscles they have already successfully trained. To repeat: tapering is part of training, and is intended to give our legs and lungs a break.
A quick, unscientific poll of three long distance athletes revealed the ugly truth about tapering. Only one in three reported feeling happy and satisfied during her taper. The rest of the athletes decided she was a low-down dirty liar.
Just kidding. Actually, she's using her taper exactly as suggested. She said when she hits the taper, she knows she is ready. She knows she has finished the meat of her program and now she gets to do what is prescribed.
"I have huge pockets of time available during a taper that I didn't have during the rest of training," she explained. Instead of gutting out a 12 mile tempo run on a Thursday morning, she's running a few quick miles. Instead of visiting the track after work, she's meeting friends for a bite.
We may grumble but we can't deny her wisdom. One runner said, "if it's before a big run, one where I have a goal, I get restless and nervous. I worry about my performance." Still another said what many of us are thinking: "I get cranky. Irritable. Restless. I don't want to sit around. I get bored." Her tone was convincing.
If you or someone you love is tapering, allow us to suggest some ways through the tapering desert.
- Trust your training. You have done the hard work, the entrée of your meal, if you will. Consider this dessert. Let your body digest the feast and loosen your belt. Maybe take a nap. Ahh. Doesn't that feel good?
- Listen to your body. It makes sense that you will feel fatigued, but it the tiredness feels more aggressive or unusual than simple fatigue, rest. No one single run the week of a marathon is going to bump you from a 4:00 to a 3:50. Just ride that wave.
- Enjoy your time off. Get a massage (if you've had one before) or a pedicure. Try low key cross training like restorative yoga. Reintroduce yourself to your family since you've been out training so much. Go on a date. Take yourself to a movie. Just don't sit in your tapering madness stew. That's not pretty.
- Stretch and hydrate as much as possible. Use a foam roller, Addaday or TriggerPoint tool to roll out all those hot spots. Stand up from your desk and stretch your hips and calves. Make sure when you stretch that you are drinking enough water to keep everything flowing nice and easy.
If you absolutely can not sit still one more cotton-pickin' minute, then go for a run, just remember that you're not trying to qualify for the Olympics. You're just shaking everything out.
Tapering doesn't have to equal tantrums. How do you get through the Tapers?