AMPT Training Series – Tackling the Taper!
Have you ever heard of or even experienced the “taper crazies”!? You know, the times just before a race when you go through a bit of mileage and running withdrawal, combined with anxious anticipation of the big day itself and you feel as if you’re going a bit stir crazy?! If so, you’re not alone! This is very common especially after weeks and months spent running high mileage each week, only to have it cut down significantly in the final 1-2 weeks leading up to your race. Today we’re here to discuss how to best “Tackle your Taper” and manage the anxiety that race day can bring.
First, we’ll look at the question, “what is and why should we taper?” According to an article by Active.com, “Taper is a time of rest and reduced workouts prior to a race. During this time, your body rebuilds, refuels and recovers from the weeks of hard training you have completed.” This is not only critical to optimal physical performance come race day, but important for mental performance as well. That said, this is also one of the main reasons runners often dread the taper period, because it allows more time for the mind to wander and overthink race day. However, when used intentionally, it can be a time to plan, prepare, and reset the mind for a strong race.
By now you may be thinking, “okay, but how long should I taper for?” According to the RRCA certification course principles, runners need the following:
- “5K and 10K: 3 days of easy running before a race
- Half-marathon: 4-7 days of easy running before a race
- Marathon/Ultra: 14-20 days of easy running before a race”
Because marathon and/or ultra-marathon distances are often the most grueling and demanding training plans, they also require the longest taper. When planning for any marathon distance, RRCA recommends the last speed workout be 5-10 days before the race. They also suggest that full/ultra-marathoners complete only “60% of average volume two weeks prior to race day, and 30% of average volume the week of the race.”
For example, if your training plan averaged 30 miles per week, this means 2 weeks before race day your weekly mileage should be around 18 miles and the week of the race should be about 9 miles. As you can see, this is a significant drop from 30 miles, leading to runners feeling like their progress may be de-railed. This is when many runners opt to skip the taper and end up over-training which can lead to physical and mental burnout or fatigue.
Therefore, it is crucial to stick to the plan and make the most of your taper! Tapering is when we train for mental toughness, as mentioned above. Instead of over-thinking the taper period, channel that energy into preparing for the race by studying the route and water stations, strategizing, and preparing your on-the-go nutrition, creating a race day playlist, planning out what you will wear, looking over parking, planning your race day logistics/itinerary, and so on. By focusing on these items ahead of time, it will leave you feeling prepared the night before the race, allowing you to de-stress and go in with a clear and ready mindset. Tapering is also a great time to focus spare time and energy into extra time spent with family or friends, non-running related hobbies, catching up on to-do lists, or even adding a little extra self-care into your routine. Again, all these activities will reduce stress leading up to race day and keep your mind off the reduced mileage!
Overall, if you find yourself getting a little “taper crazy” before your next big run, take comfort knowing that you are doing the best thing for your body by allowing it to repair, recover, and re-fuel. While it may be tough in the moment, a positive mindset can help you power through and it will pay off in the long run opposed to over-training the body and skipping the taper, which could cause injures and/or less than optimal race-day results. Just as during your run, the mind is a powerful tool. In fact, your mindset can be “make it or break it” so practice #TrainingWithPurpose around mental toughness and stay strong during your next taper. This mindset will carry over into your race and help you #FinishStrong! Happy Tapering!