Ten days before I was set to toe the line of the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon in Ashland, Oregon, I found myself crying over a sink full of dirty dishes. As I watched warm, salty tears carve miniature craters in the suds, confusion washed over me. The reason and suddenness for my sadness was a mystery.
As a working mom of two teenagers, I usually blame random emotional moments like these on sheer exhaustion or forgetting to eat lunch even as I take great care in making sure everyone else is fed.
But I couldn’t be hungry. My tighter-than-last-week jeans combined with extra helpings at every meal lately, confirmed my slump wasn’t about food.
I definitely wasn’t pregnant. Then it hit me; I’m tapering!
What is Tapering?
Taper time for a marathoner–the weeks wedged between that last, long training run and race day–are supposed to be a time of extra rest, healthy food, and excitement about the race to come. In reality, they are often fraught with worry, binge eating, and the occasional emotional outburst.
The length of taper depends on the individual and the race distance. Marathoners aren’t the only ones treated to the pre-race crazies. They can emerge in shorter taper periods leading up to a half marathon or even a 5k.
Topping the list of taper symptoms is self-doubt. I start asking myself questions like, “Have I trained hard enough? Should I squeeze in an extra run?” For first time marathoners, the most pressing worry is, “How can I run 26.2 miles if my longest run ever was 22?”
For any runner, a rest period can make us feel like we’re loosing fitness or our performance edge. In truth, this time in reduced workouts lets our body repair muscle tissue damage and use its energy reserves to replenish.
How do You Fight the Freak Out?
So why do we lose confidence, doubt ourselves, cry in the dishwater? Simply put, we forget to trust our training. Because our anxiety about race day itself takes center stage, we neglect to recognize the strengths gained from the work we’ve already accomplished. Taper time is the perfect opportunity to take stock of your achievements.
Bravery sets in when you hit that online registration submit button. Your commitment took courage from the start.
After racking up those training miles, you’ve become an expert in what your body needs to carry you to the finish line. You discovered what racing fuel works for you and how to stay hydrated.
You already know how to endure long miles that strengthened your muscles and your mind. Your 13-mile run gave you the physical endurance to nail the 15. The 22-miler bolstered your mental tenacity that will see you through mile 26.
Like many strategies about successful running and racing, the solution to taper challenges can be served up with a helping of fresh mindset and a side of practical advice.
First, consider the taper as a cycle within your larger training plan, not something that just happens after your last key workout.
Second, schedule activities during your taper that will get you to the starting line healthy and itching to race.
Throw These Into Your Training Cycle
- Grab an extra 15-30 minutes of sleep per night.
- Continue to eat nutrient-dense food. Resist the urge to over carbo load or diet.
- When in doubt, do less. Follow your plan’s decrease in workout volume and intensity. But if a run feels too taxing, it probably is.
- Swap worry for productivity. Review race details, do a gear check, map out travel logistics.
- Jot down a few race goals. Make one that’s related to time and one that’s not, like nailing your fueling plan.
- Visualize yourself giving it your all on the home stretch and smiling at the finish.
- And my personal favorite, explain to your friends and family that cheering for you starts at taper time. You need encouragement to rest, eat well, and focus on your event. It’s perfectly acceptable to off load some of your chores and claim the recliner as yours during this important cycle of training!
The biggest benefit of trusting your training and using your taper time wisely is that it will prevent you from making mistakes that can jeopardize your race day. Several of my coaches have reminded me that there is no fitness to be gained during these final days, but much to be lost if you over do it.
But don’t worry. Even if taper time finds you sneaking an extra piece of cake, flustered with simple household chores, or even a bit hard to live with, take comfort in knowing it will end. You’ll stop asking yourself if you’re ready, your jitters and worry will subside.
Then all you have to do is race!