There is a constant tug-of-war going on in a runner’s mind during the final two weeks of a training period. That’s the only easy explanation for tapering. You’re told to scale back your miles, but your mind asks how that helps.
Today is my first day of tapering for my fifth full marathon. It’s always a tough day struggling with my head. The good thing is I know I’m not alone. I think back to my first training session when I didn’t trust the taper, and really didn’t trust my training either.
My mileage stayed high, my effort was around 85 percent, and I laughed at people who told me to scale back and taper correctly. They were right. When I hit the wall around mile 17, it nearly leveled me. But hitting the wall that hard began with what happened weeks before.
At the start of the race, I could feel I had heavy legs. My right knee begans letting me know it was there around the fourth mile. Slowly my right quadriceps made its presence known as well. The signs were there six days before the race. I had a tough training run, so, I went back out the next day and tried to make it better. Wrong move – I didn’t trust the taper or my training.
As the race kept on, by mile 15, I could feel just about every muscle fiber in my right leg. To make matters worse, my left leg started to cramp as well. Then at mile 17, total lock up. The next two miles were horrendous. Finally, I was able to get over the wall and to the finish line.
It was the next training sequence, where I said I’ll trust the taper. The tug-of-war began in my head, but this time I was able to keep control. It paid off. On race day, not only were my legs fresh, my whole body was – not to mention my mind. I was able to run through the wall, not get knocked down by it.
After the race, I analyzed many things from my training: mileage, speed, nutrition, and the taper. Each one played a vital role, but what changed the most was the taper.
Here are a few tips to help you taper correctly, and allow your mind to trust the process:
- Reduce your weekly runs by 20 to 25 percent, both in length and effort. Yes, your mind will second-guess you. As it does, look at your training logs from the entire period. This will show you that you’re ready for the race and give you the confidence you need to get to the finish line
- You just finished a training period that induced fatigue through increased mileage. It is time to reward your legs – and entire body – with a nice recovery period. Focus on nutrition and hydration. By scaling back on miles and effort, and ramping up nutrition you’ll be rested and at optimal condition for your race.
- Use the time from scaling back your mileage to make sure you are getting eight hours of sleep nightly. Stay off your feet as much as possible. When laying down, elevate your ankles with a pillow. Use a foam roller to get knots out of your muscles. Don’t change eating habits.
The most important thing to keep in mind is to trust your training. And the taper is a big part of that.
What taper tips do you have?