Tapering as a part a scheduled running plan allows a trained athlete to rest for an upcoming event. All of the hard workouts have been completed, this time is purposely built into the schedule with low mileage and non-challenging runs. As an event approaches, the routine of: run, run, run switches to: rest, heal, and prepare for the event.
Who’s going to argue with less physical intensity and more time to become fully invested in the goal ahead?
You would be surprised at some of the things I’ve witnessed in the lead-up to a big race. I have seen runners do some very peculiar things during their taper period. For a variety of reasons, some athletes choose to squander the gains they’ve made over months of training. And they do this in the final week leading up to their race. Yikes!
I say, “Defend Against the Stupid” because you have spent time and energy building fitness for the race. A body and positive mindset that is focused not only on a calendar date, but a distance and a “time.” All this, if you have planned correctly, will match up and deliver the results you’ve envisioned. There are some things you will have no control over at your race. The weather, the race management’s ability to start on time or measure the course properly, along with the actions of other runners. If any of those seem unsettling, let’s turn to the flip side and discuss the ONE THING you do control…
Your preparedness and mindset on race day.
Avoid putting yourself in a position where you undertake “extra” or non-essential things as you taper for your race. With additional time and energy available due to less running, I’ve seen people chose to do things they’d not usually do. Here are some examples:
- Help a friend move
- Clean out your attic
- Take a bike ride (if you’re not a cyclist)
- Lift heavy objects
- Try some strength training at the gym
- Demonstrate your “skills” at your kid’s sports event
- Experiment with new foods in the two days leading up to the race
Those are merely some activities you can and should avoid. (There are plenty of others!) I’ve had friends come to the regular run workouts during the week of their event saying, “I’m in my taper now, I’m just going to run easy” and tear hamstring muscles racing around a track. Or running up a hill.
I understand the “runner’s high” and how that feeling will be missed. I understand the calories you have gotten used to losing each week in training. And you’ve got this windfall of time, so why not?
Your primary role in tapering is to preserve this fitness that you’ve invested in. Say “no” to extra activities. Control using the surplus energy you may have since your runs aren’t as frequent or intense. Pretend you’ve made a project out of “special material” and you need to get it safely to the race start line. Guard it vigorously. Put it in a vault, don’t risk any damage to the great work you’ve done by following your plan these past weeks and months. You need to make it to the start line healthy!
I like to use the week of tapering to sharpen mentally what I want to see happen in my race. It really does work, if you can put yourself in a quiet place and envision what each piece of race morning will be like. You should do this each day before your race. This mental training will program your brain. Hint: Your inner grey matter cannot tell what has really happened vs. what you’re conjuring up. Here are some ideas of how to sharpen your mind pre race:
- I see myself succeeding. I think of things like my pace, my place among competitors, what I’ll see along the route, I see it all tilted in my favor. On race day it’s easier to recall a positive series of thoughts than to “wing it” and hope things just work out.
- I see and accommodate for obstacles like the weather, a bad parking spot, a line at the porta-potty, a crowded start or slow first few miles. I’m going to do well regardless. I came ready to achieve.
- On any course that has an out-n-back course, I like to look where I will be running back and tell myself “I’m going to feel this good when I’m there,” further along on the course. And when I get there and see others running on the first segment of the route, I envision them wishing they were next to me, looking strong and waaaay ahead.
- I always think of how good it will be to finish and have my goal achieved. Yes it’s difficult to run that long, that fast, etc. It’s temporary. I promise that 30 minutes after your race – you’ll feel better and have more energy. If this is true, use that resource NOW when you need it! Take a loan out on this afternoon’s energy and spend it in your race.
- We are in the social media age – Maybe work out a mental draft of what you’ll post and what you’ll say about your great performance. How do you want that to look, what do you want to be able to say about yourself? Make it positive, you’ve earned it!
- Transfer success. Everyone is good at something. Let those feelings come to you – the feelings you get when you “win” at something you’re already good at. This transferral of positive emotions can and will help you on race day.
If you’re new at the distance you’ve registered for, you will have some uncertainty. That’s natural and doesn’t have to come as a negative. Buffer all of with the facts. You have done the training, you have the support of friends, family and teammates. You are made of “special material” and here’s where you prove to yourself just how good you are. Use your taper time to regenerate and arrive ready to go on race day.