In theory, the taper before your big race should be a rewarding time. But more often than not, I’ve found it to be a challenging couple of weeks. After all, running isn’t just a means to an end for me — it’s how I cope with stress, help myself feel healthy, and it’s even how I socialize a lot of the time! So when taper time rolls around and I’m being told to ‘cool it’ with running, I get a little ansty. And anxious. And in the past, I’ve panicked.
It doesn’t matter that I’ve run 12 marathons and countless other races and triathlons in my life — the taper period is always a struggle for me! The good news is, there are a lot of things you can do not only make your taper period easier, but also to help make your actual race a success.
Since it’s taper time for those running the 2017 New York City Marathon, I decided to share some insight into how to survive (and win!) your taper period.
The Golden Rules of Tapering
I recently read a Runner’s World article featuring the quote, “The marathon is a test you cannot cram for.” And it’s so true. While you may be tempted to make up for any lost training or even make more gains in the final few weeks leading up to the New York City Marathon, it’s best to push these thoughts out of your head and instead focus on maintaining what you’ve already built while finessing any outliers that could compromise your training.
Here are some general things to remember while tapering.
1. Trust your training. Tapering is NOT the time to try to squeeze in missed workouts. The bulk of your work is dunzo, and squeezing in a 20-miler the weekend leading up to the marathon probably won’t help you (sorry).
2. Reduce your mileage. According to another Runner’s World article, there’s actual science behind the taper. Sure, it’s the same science that says drinking beer can help you lose weight, but hey: IT’S SCIENCE. The article states that when you taper properly, you make big gains: your leg muscles actually get bigger and more powerful. Win! Beyond the muscle size benefits, the study of Taylor University cross-country runners also found that tapering boosts oxygen-carrying red blood cells, and a reduction in stress hormones, which can lead to a 2 to 4 percent improvement in race times. Woah.
3. Reward yourself (in a healthy way). Get extra sleep or treat yourself to a new book, podcast or Netflix series that you can explore in your newfound spare time (that you’d normally spend running). Take time time to do things you might’ve had to miss out on during training, or just take that extra time and do nothing.
4. Don’t treat yourself like a human garbage disposal. During the peak of our training, shoveling food down our throats is pretty common. After all, it takes a lot to refuel after a 20-miler! However, tapering means you also don’t need as many calories as you did while you were logging miles in the double-digits more than once a week. Save the fast food, late nights and #drinkingallthebeers until after the finish line. Everything will taste better then — I promise!
5. Hydrate! Of course, there’s much to be said about overhydrating (don’t do it) — but try to squeeze in an extra 1-3 glasses of water per day.
5. Don’t psych yourself out. It’s easy to start second-guessing yourself, and your goals. Don’t. You’ve got this!
6. If you live locally, try to run the last 5+ miles of the race course. During the actual marathon, it will be comforting to know that you’ve been there before. And knowing what to expect in the last couple of miles is sure to ease a bit of anxiety.
How to Survive the Week Before The Race
The week before your big event can be nerve-wracking, especially if you are running the distance in front of you for the first time or are looking accomplish a big goal. Here are a few ways to turn your nervous energy into proactive preparation.
- Change as little as possible from your normal routine. Okay, if you normally get 5 hours of sleep, THAT’S something you can probably change. But don’t deviate too much from your ‘normal’ — meaning, don’t feel the need to change up your fueling strategy completely (adding a few extra carbs to your plate should be fine!), and don’t knock/eliminate things that have worked for you in the past.
- Get enough sleep: The night before the marathon you’ll probably want to get to sleep very early for your mega-early wake up call on marathon morning. Try to get yourself into a rhythm of going to bed a bit earlier the week leading up to race day so your body isn’t totally confused come Saturday night. However, don’t take this as an invitation to get used to 10-hour sleep stupors. Keep yourself on a healthy schedule.
- Plan ahead: Map out your race morning schedule so you can figure out your method of transportation, what time you’ll need to wake up, and how long it should take you to arrive at your race coral. Also plan with your friends and family to find out where they’ll be spectating, and how you can find them after the race.
- PRO TIP: If you are taking the Staten Island Ferry, you can pretty much get on any ferry despite your designated time. Avoid long lines or delays by arriving a half hour earlier than you need to.
- Review your training. In the days leading up to the race, it may be helpful to remind yourself of how hard you’ve worked over the past few months. Review your training log and/or calendar, your social media feeds, and your Garmin/Strava history.
- Take extra precautions to avoid illness. That means using, Airborne, taking Vitamin C, and wearing a jacket! Don’t stay out late! Do everything your parents nag you about!
- Do a hard workout in the beginning of the week so you don’t get too comfortable. You wouldn’t want to forget how to work hard or how to survive a mentally tough workout right before a big race!
- Mentally prepare for how you’re going to feel on race day. Marathons are hard! I don’t mean to scare you, but you will feel uncomfortable at certain points, and it will be hurt at times. That’s okay! Be prepared for it to feel almost too easy at the beginning, and be ready to race when the race really starts (anytime after 18 miles).
- Do a test run in your race-day outfit. If you haven’t already done so, do a 3-4 mile shakeout jog in your marathon-day outfit to ensure it’s comfortable early on in the week!
The Day *Before* Race Day
- Go for a very easy shakeout jog — keep your legs loose!
- Stretch & foam roll!
- Enjoy the race expo, but don’t spend the whole day on your feet. Wear sneakers to the expo if you can and avoid trying every free sample. If something doesn’t mesh with your stomach, it could be bad news for the next morning.
- Trim your toenails! I’ve had enough bloody sneakers to have learned this lesson the hard way. If you have any ‘problem’ areas, consider bandaging or wrapping them on race-day morning.
- Re-check that your method of transportation to the race start is still operating (watch out for subway delays and road closures!).
The NIGHT Before Race Day
- Lay out all of your clothes, nutrition, and race bib/anything you’ll be taking with you to marathon village so you aren’t feeling rushed or stressed the morning of the race.
2. Have a carb-rich dinner. Carbo-loading does not mean that you should eat 90 plates of pasta for dinner… it could lead to unexpected UNLOADING race day morning. But try to have 60-75% of your dinner be made up of carbs for ~fueling~.
3. Don’t eat anything you haven’t eaten before. You don’t want to spend your race running from port-a-potty to port-a-potty!
4. Go to bed early BUT don’t fret if you lay awake for hours — one night of bad sleep is unlikely to impact your race performance. Focus on getting a good WEEK of sleep beforehand.
5. Make your race morning breakfast and set your coffee pot the night before. You’ll probably want to ingest something ASAP to get your bowels in motion!
6. Confirm cheer squad locations (and a post-race meet-up location!) & send photos of your race day outfit to your spectator friends/family!
7. Visualize yourself running the race and crossing the finish line. It helps, I promise!
8. Do something fun! Organize a low-key pasta dinner with friends, watch your favorite comedy special on Netflix, or read a good book.
Okay, now that you’re armed with tons of information, you should barely have time to worry about the race. Ready to taper?!