If you’re signed up for the United Airlines NYC Half, you’ve probably entered the period of your training that just might the most difficult: the taper.
For what it’s worth, the taper is typically the two or three week period leading up to a race when a training program starts ‘tapering off’, if you will, calling for less running, fewer miles, and more recovery.
If you’re wondering, ‘Wait! I thought the taper was a time to rest and relax! What’s so hard about that?’, well, the only way to answer that is to ask another question: Have you ever known a runner to be good at relaxing?
Sure, resting is good in theory — especially when paired with brunch and a delicious beer after a long run or hard workout. But after a day or two, most runners are itching to get back to work. Working hard, putting forth our best efforts, and breathing heavy just come naturally to endurance athletes.
While I’d love to applaud those who are motivated to run more throughout the taper period (while simultaneously wondering where the heck that motivation was during your last speed session….), as a running coach I firmly have to advise you to slow your roll and respect the taper period. A productive and effective taper will allow your body to repair, recover, replenish, and regroup before you tackle the biggest challenge of your training plan: race day.
Here’s how to make the most of your taper for a successful race.
1. Do Less
And I don’t just mean running less. Yes, reducing your weekly mileage is an important part of every taper, as resting your muscles means an increase in strength and power output, increases in VO2 max and a more efficient running economy. But don’t try to fill up the time you’d normally spend running doing a million other activities. Try to stay off of your feet as much as possible, and give yourself time to relax, sleep more, and actually rest. While overtapering is a real thing, it’s rarely as threatening as the draw of taking on more social or work commitments that can lead to exhaustion.
2. Stay Intense
Just because you’re reducing your mileage doesn’t mean you should take it easy during all of your remaining runs. Incorporating one or two intense interval workouts and/or tempo runs into your taper period helps you maintain your fitness and keeps your aerobic training stimulus in check. Since you’ll be taking it ‘easy’ for the majority of your taper, tempo runs, interval runs and speed workouts are a good way to remind your body that it isn’t done with training just yet.
3. Keep Your Diet in Check
It can be easy to continue eating as if you’re accumulating high mileage during the week, but since your taper period is scaling back on your workload, it’s important to keep your diet in check. I’m not saying you should diet, but I would say it’s more important now than ever in the plan to continue eating healthy and not to gorge yourself or celebrate the end of the season (with chips, ice cream, or late night snacks) too early. Spend some of the time you have leftover from not running so much this week to meal prep, incorporating a good variety of fruits and veggies, carbs (the good kinds – potatoes, rice, whole grains) and protein into your diet.
4. Don’t Second Guess Your Goals
It can be easy to start second guessing yourself and your goals during the taper period. While it’s totally common, it can be fatal territory. Take some time during your taper to go over your training plan or Strava feed and look at all of the hard workouts, long runs, and overall time you’ve dedicated to this training plan. Not only will this help you remember that you’ve been putting in the work and the time needed to get you to where you’ll want to be, but you’ll be reminded of the crazy hard workouts or long runs when you thought you couldn’t possibly finish, but you did, somehow. Remember to take those thoughts with you when you line up on race day.
5. Mentally Prepare
This may sound silly, but do it anyway: Visualize yourself running your perfect race. What does it look like? Take some time to think about how you want your race strategy to go. If you’re unsure, discuss it with your coach (hi!). Another thing you can do to mentally prepare for your race is to arm yourself with a mantra you’ll repeat in your head when you get tired. Whether your mantra is, “You got this!” or “Do the damn thing!” or “Hills are my favorite!” think about something that will help motivate you to the finish line.
6. Actually Prepare
Get all of your race day nutrition and gear in order. Figure out how you’ll travel to and from the race, where you’ll meet friends who might be spectating after, etc. Don’t wait until the day before the race to realize you need to go downtown to get extra GU packets or your race belt is nowhere to be found.
7. Sleep More
Take advantage of your lower mileage days and reinvest in your sleep. I think I mentioned this already but OMG please sleep!
If you have any questions about what you should or shouldn’t be doing during the taper, feel free to reach out to me! And if you find yourself with extra time to kill during the taper, here are some low key activities you can do.
- Watch The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young on Netflix
- Read Endure by Alex Hutchinson
- Watch Icarus on Netflix
- Listen to any of Mario Frairoli’s the morning shakeout podcasts, he interviews some super inspiring runners
Keep calm and taper on!