Taper weeks affect all runners differently. Some of us enjoy the decreased, easy mileage; others have a hard time taking it easy for the last couple of weeks before a race. Either way, there’s a lot more time to think into everything.
It can be tempting to want to over-prepare or alter your routine the race, but this usually isn’t for the best. My Taper Toolbox has some essentials that I base on both experience and running education; hopefully it helps ease your mind as you approach your race!
Practice visualization. Visualization is a great strategy to feel positive emotions leading up to your race. Imagine your surroundings: the sights, the sounds, the smells – and picture yourself there. Picture yourself crossing the finish line with your goal time on the clock. How does it feel? What are your reactions? Visualization in athletics has been studied quite a bit over the last decade or so. Researchers have found that the more you visualize yourself in a given situation, the more prepared you end up feeling when the day comes around. Picture yourself reaching whatever goal you’ve set for yourself.
Eliminate as much negativity as possible. Negative energy is the last thing you need to surround yourself with before a race. I’m not talking just about the peanut gallery that spouts questions such as “Isn’t that too much of a goal for your second marathon?” I’m talking about all the negative energy. I’ve unfollowed several people on Facebook and have made it a point to avoid reading negative news stories. I also avoid engaging in conversations that are high stress (sometimes they’re unavoidable, but I try to set boundaries).
Resist the urge to start some kind of new routine in an effort to “best prepare” for race day. It’s very easy to want take up stretching or foam rolling. Rule of thumb with stretching: If you’ve always stretched and it’s worked for you, keep stretching. If you haven’t stretched and it’s worked for you, don’t start (especially before a big deal race). Stretching improperly, or when your muscles are cold, can cause pulls and tears. In general, keep your routine regarding stretching and foam rolling the same as you have throughout the duration of your training, even if that means not doing either of those things at all.
SLEEP! Adulting doesn’t leave a ton of time for sleep, but it’s crucial during taper as you prepare for a race. During taper weeks, I make it a point to balance my time as best as possible so that I can get to bed at a reasonable hour and potentially sleep for eight hours. I have a two year old, so I get that this can be tough – but the more you can recharge your body, the better.
Find a few mindless tasks and do them often. I love to binge watch The Office, read a bunch of books, and color intricate pictures (the “adult coloring books” that are all the rage). I suggest discovering three things you love to do but never seem to have time for – do those things.
Most importantly: DO NOT alter your training plan, and make sure you listen to your body!
- Step 1: Do not alter your training plan. It doesn’t matter how good you feel or how much you want to prove to yourself that you’re fast enough, strong enough, etc. If your training plan calls for easy miles, then they should be easy miles – not a tempo or strength run. Avoid adding extra miles during taper weeks; the point is to refuel and give your muscles a break.
- Step 2: Make sure your listen to your body. You learn a lot about yourself over the course of a training plan. By now, you’re probably aware of what YOUR difference is between “just sore” and “this is on the brink of spraining/snapping/tearing/putting me out of running for an indefinite amount of time.” Sore is one thing; we work through that – but something that hurts worse with each step and causes you to alter your stride and/or favor one leg over the other? Not good – probably best to further examine that and consider skipping a short run if necessary.
Taper weeks can be trying, and I hope these suggestions help you enjoy the rest. What do you do during taper weeks to keep yourself healthy, sane, and injury free?