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The time is here. You are a couple weeks away from your goal race. You feel good. Your times are right where you want them to be. Your legs are tired but not exhausted. Knowing all this, you’re wondering if you should taper like your training plan says or keep with what you’re doing up until race day.
Every runner struggles with this thing called tapering. But you shouldn’t.
Tapering is just as critical to your training cycle as the first weeks of building your base, your weekly tempo run, and your weekly long run. Even though you may feel like a million bucks right now, tapering ensures you feel like a billion on race day.
The taper – reducing mileage the last few weeks of the training cycle – not only allows you to fully recover from the grueling training cycle, but it makes sure you’re at your peak on race day.
Research shows levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones – all which are depleted during the training cycle because of high mileage – return to optimal ranges during the taper, according to the journal of Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise. Muscle damage that also occurs during regular training is also repaired, and muscle strength is improved.
Need more proof that tapering works? Look back at the training schedule you are about to complete. The week after a high mileage long run is a week of decreased mileage. This is to allow your muscles and bodies replenish for the upcoming weeks of training. Or, a quick taper week to make you stronger.
So now that you are tapering, what do you do to keep your mind from going crazy on you.
Do stick to your mileage plan. Complete each run as your schedule tells you. Do not go longer, or faster. Generally, weekday training should consist of one medium long run of eight to 10 miles, one race-pace run of four to six miles, one non-running day, and two runs of three to five miles. And, of course the long runs. Except for the one race-pace run, all other training runs should be relaxed.
Do not raid the fridge, pantry, etc. Your nutrition is always key, especially during your taper period. Re-fuel your body with the key nutrients it needs to recover and have you ready for race day. Be sure you stay hydrated – don’t over-indulge on adult beverages, coffee, HFCS beverages or anything else that can dehydrate you. Eat plenty of protein so your muscles can repair – shoot for 75-100 grams of protein per day. Ensure you are getting the vitamins needed for immune defense and amino acids.
Do make friends with your foam roller and yoga mat. Stretching and rolling out should be a main focus during your taper period. This keeps your muscles loose and your body limber. Roll out any knots you have. Pay close attention to your hips, lower back, calves, and IT band.
Do get more sleep. With added time to your calendars because your mileage is decreased, you will have more time to sleep. Reward your body for taking care of you during the training cycle, and make sure it is ready for the main event.
Do set your race day plan. You’ve gotten this far, it’s time to set your final preparations for race day. Make sure all your gear is ready, watch and phone are charged, you have enough on-course fuel and hydration, shoes are pristine. Know how you’re getting to the start line. Mentally – visualize your race, your times, prepare for the unexpected, and tell yourself this is your reward for kicking ass during the training period.
Remembering these tips will make sure your race is a success. Don’t throw a taper tantrum. Stick to your plan.
And, then, on race day, TRUST YOUR TRAINING.