For non-marathoners who may wonder, taper is the part of a training program where you begin to prepare your body for the target race by slowly backing off of the intense training during the peak weeks to allow your body time to rebuild. The more you work muscles, the more they break down. This is why you work in a recovery week every 3 or 4 weeks of a marathon schedule – to allow those muscles you have broken down the time to rebuild so they are stronger than before. With the taper portion, your body has the miles on it now and you are giving it a 2-3 week period of time to rebuild. The taper is just as important as the peak training periods because your body needs that time of rest.
Now, tapers do not mean to go from 60 miles to 10 miles in one week. A program would normally have the runner decrease the mileage around 20% but keeping the intensity of the training. The volume needs to decrease but the intensity needs to be maintained to allow for the muscle response and training that has been learned through training to continue operating as the program designed. That is just a little of an overview on the taper for marathoning.
4 Ways to Overcome Taper Madness
Taper madness is what happens when you are in taper mode and your mind begins to torment you about the race. You might have a bad run during the taper and you begin to wonder how you can run an entire marathon when you can’t run only 6 miles. Things like this just drive the runner nuts! Here are some of my tips to overcome that taper madness.
1) Use That Empty Time Wisely!
One of the reasons people experience taper madness is that they have more time on their hands than they used to. On a day where I might be used to running 12 miles, I am only running 6 or 7. So that is about 40 some minutes more on that day than I would have before. DON’T replace those extra miles with intense workouts. That defeats the purpose of the taper. Instead, use it to do a little extra stretching after you are done, go for a relaxing swim, do a easy bike ride, take a walk, or do some housework. One thing that will work great for the morning runner – sleep in an extra 30/45 minutes before your run. This will also help you to build your body up. Do anything besides intense exercise or running.
2) Lean On Your Training
Everyone has bad runs sometime during their training. When those bad runs come during taper time, it really causes some worry. In fact, a bad run during taper can cause you to run even more/harder the next day and that is one of the worst things you can do! So, when the bad runs come or the worry about the race enter your mind, look at your training journals to remind yourself of the miles that you have put in over the last 13-16 weeks. That is a long time and you have done a lot of miles during that time. By referring back to your training journal, you can bolster your confidence by the great training schedule.
3) Eat Healthy
The body holds up incredible well during intense training. There is something that happens with the body that allows the intense exercise to kick in to the body’s immune system. This helps you to stay healthy and build your immune system when you need it the most. When you begin to taper, your immune system can start to let up a bit since your body is not working out as much. The times I have gotten sick the most have always been during the taper. That is the last thing you want is to get sick in the week or two before a marathon. So, you need to balance the decrease in your miles with watching your health. Obviously, the runner should be observing a running-friendly diet anyway. During this time, I always try to stay away from sugar as much as possible. It is also important to remember to decrease the portions of food you are eating during this time. Remember, you are not burning the same amount of calories as you did during the heavy training weeks. This close to the race, you need to decrease your caloric intake to ensure you are not adding the pounds just before the race.
4) Plan the Plan
Now that you are within a couple of weeks of the marathon, this is the time that you can really hone your marathon plan for success. You have the benefit of seeing the whole training program after you have come close to completing it and seeing how well you did with it. In addition, you are getting close enough to the race that you can begin to look at the weather reports for your marathon city. This will have an impact on your race plan. Also, you can enjoy the excitement of going over the course map and elevation profile as well as reading reports of the race from earlier on. This is the time when you see the race just ahead and can get your mind into it ahead of time.
Those are my tips for overcoming taper madness. They have helped me each time to stay focused and I hope they can help you as approach your taper madness period!