At this point in the last taper, I fell out of bed and broke my little toe (Running Rule No 49: Don’t Fall Out of Bed During the Taper). We run into things, drop stuff on our feet, obsess about our race day gear, which gel do we want, what will the weather be, when to carbo load, now we look fat. We just know we’re already out of shape. I am not the first runner to cuss the taper.
It is never too late to learn something, and over the years the taper has obliged me a lesson or two. First, let’s divide the taper into its two most basic components: what’s going on in our head and what’s really happening.
Physical: running distance has been reduced significantly;
Mental: we are certain we’ll lose fitness; random miles sneak back into the calendar to compensate.
Physical: our body begins to rest from months of long runs;
Mental: everything hurts.
Physical: glycogen stores begin to replenish;
Mental: our legs feel heavy – we begin to believe we can’t possibly run fast come race day.
Fear not, the taper will not destroy you.
Studies have shown the positive effects of the taper, and…. have proven nothing at all. In other words, while the taper is proven to improve race performance, the details of a successful taper vary from runner to runner. We knew this.
So, how should you structure the taper?
I like to focus on the key points and find my path somewhere within:
Two to three weeks: Shorter races call for shorter tapers but when it comes to the marathon, most runners recover from training and feel rested for racing in 2-3 weeks. The last long run should be at the beginning of the taper. No run during the taper should have the purpose of increasing endurance.
Avoid Hard: the point is to maintain fitness without draining the glycogen stores you are attempting to rebuild.
Prevent Detraining: the tapering effect is greatest if there is a rapid reduction in training volume in the first few days, but training should be done at a high intensity, although it should also be. . .
Easy enough to avoid muscle soreness/damage: soreness is pain in the muscle, either on usage or when pressing on the muscle, where fatigue is weakness and inability to produce force. If muscles hurt when walking down the stairs, that would be soreness. If your muscles are weak and you have to support yourself walking down those stairs, that’s fatigue.
Race Pace (or faster, if it does not cause soreness): Tim Noakes writes in Lore of Running, “My advice is that once you decide to taper, do as little training as your mind will allow, but do that little training at a fast pace.”
There is only one other piece of advice I will offer for the taper: find a distraction!
Eleven days to race day. . . tapering in progress.