ta·per (tā′pər): n. to diminish or lessen gradually.
..or in runner's terms: a bittersweet celebration of all the hard work you have put into training.
Taper, or tapering, refers to the reduction of exercise before a competition or race. It is a 2-3 week window where runners cut back on mileage to assure fresh legs on race day. I call it bittersweet because it can make runners feel like they are loosing their minds. You'd think the ideology would be exciting and rewarding, however it's not the easiest transition for competitive runners to go from running long, fast, and hard to slowing things down a notch.
Reluctantly, the taper does work, but only if you embrace it and let it work its magic. It is a time to ensure all of your batteries are fully charged and ready to go. You won't build speed or endurance during this window but you can definitely sabotage race day by trying to prove things to yourself when you should be embracing easy, short running.
As with any form of exercise, you should always listen to your body and taper the smart way.
Three Weeks Out: The beginning of the taper generally begins after your hardest "peak week" of fatigue-inducing high mileage, therefore you'll likely welcome these first couple days of cutting back. I recommend reducing your total weekly volume by 10-20% during this week to give your body a chance to recover from all the hard work by restocking depleted glycogen supplies and repairing tissue damage. For example, if you were running 6 miles during your shorter midweek runs, run 5; if you ran 22 miles the previous week's long run, run 18. Most of your runs should be performed at easy pace. I like to keep my pace goal in mind during this time and rather then pushing myself for the full length of the run, I'll only run 3-5 miles at goal pace, to keep my body and mind accustomed to race pace.
Two Weeks Out: During week two of your taper, I try to reduce an additional 20-25% of my total mileage. Here is where the mental fret comes in, this is the point in time my mind usually gets the best of me and I begin doubting my ability to finish in my goal time. It is important that during this time you look back and reflect on all the training you have put in and trust that it is enough.
Race Week:This week is all about a sigh of relief, YOU MADE IT! At this point, it's all about rest, rejuvenation, and mental prep. Running should be significantly reduced to just four days. New marathoners should run no more then 3-4 miles at a time, experienced runners can do up to 6 miles. Try to stay focused on your race pace goal. I usually like to do a very light, race-pace workout early in the week to help me stay sharp. This week is all about keeping legs loose, staying within the routine your body is used to and maintaining what you worked so hard to build up the last few months.
This week, it is especially important to reduce all stressors from your lifestyle. I aimed to sleep at least 8 hours a night and reduce my activity as much as possible - reducing stress on your body will allow it to top off its glycogen and maintain adequate hydration levels. To combat nerves, my husband and I usually schedule date nights, try out new restaurants and catch up on any movies or TV shows.
Ok enough about running, time to focus on my favorite part of the taper: THE CARBS
People are often amazed when they hear I shed almost 45 minutes from my previous PR time, sometimes I chalk it up to straight luck but I know a big part of it (other then intensifying my training and having alot of faith) was how I fueled my body. Before my Boston Qualifying race in Providence, I used to "race" just to prove to myself that I could finish. I ran without educating myself much. I used to think I could eat anything I wanted because I was running so much, when in retrospect, like with anything, it's really all about quality over quantity. I will discuss nutrition during running further in another post, but for the sake of keeping this one focused on my Boston Taper I will get right to the point.
Boston Taper Nutrition Aim:
Decrease calories, keep up carbs:
Since you will be exercising less, you don’t need as many calories as you did when you were burning them for training. The excess calories not being used for exercise can be used to load up your muscle glycogen stores, but they could also accumulate into unwanted weight gain. In order to decrease calories but keep up carbohydrate intake you will have to trade some of the calories coming from fat for more carbohydrates.
Protein for Maintenance and Repair:
Protein is always my go to for satiation in my meals. I always try to having a couple of servings of lean protein (chicken, turkey, roast beef, fish) or protein-rich foods (eggs, beans, tofu, lentils) each day to help my body repair itself.
Choose More Fiber, Less Junk:
Junk food will weigh and slow you down. Choose foods higher in fiber, lower in sugars such as fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads, pastas, and cereals.
HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE:
Dehydration can significantly impair performance, but it is preventable with adequate hydration in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the race.
Here's a closer look into my Boston Taper:
WEEK 11 + 12 TRAINING:
TOTAL MILAGE: 67.9
BEAT OF THE WEEK: NO TURNING BACK (UMMET OZCAN RADIO EDIT) - MEM
Monday: Progression Run = 5.55 total miles
5.55mi; 45:01; 8:27/mi
Tuesday: Progression Longer Run = 10.05 total miles
6.0-10.0 (treadmill speed) - increasing .1 every 2 minutes
Wednesday: y7 Yoga/NRC Pace Run = 7.0 total miles
Thursday: Barry's Bootcamp (speed day) = 4.0 total miles
2 min w/u
1 min run
1 min push
1 min push (2.0%-6.0% incline increase every 30 seconds)
1 min recovery
1 min sprint
1 min run
1 min jog
1 min sprint
Friday: 8 mile easy run
Saturday: 4 mile shake out run
Went to Ruby's Cafe for an amazing post workout brunch!