You made it!!! The hard miles are done and now you can begin to consolidate all that training with a ‘taper’, but what is a taper? Why should you do it, what should you be aware of and what are the ‘taper tantrums’!!
Whether you are a seasoned distance runner or a first-time marathoner, whatever the distance you are racing, tapering is a really good idea! Let’s take a look at what one is and why it’s such a good idea.
WHAT IS IT?
A taper is a period of 1-3 weeks (2 weeks tend to be fairly standard) prior to a goal race where you reduce training volume and intensity. It usually starts with a significant drop in volume - around 50% - keeping the intensity the same as the previous training block and then a further drop in volume and intensity in the final week before race day.
When deciding on the length of the taper that you do, there are a couple of things to consider. One factor is the distance that you are racing eg. if it is a 5K then you may only require a week, but if you were running a 50 mile ultra then you might opt for 2 weeks or maybe 3 weeks if you are running 100 miles or more!!
If you work with a coach, this should be something that you have chatted about and worked out weeks or months before you begin tapering.
WHY SHOULD I DO IT?
There are a number of reasons why you should consider ‘tapering’ from both a physiological and psychological standpoint.
Increase glycogen stores depleted through training*
Repair muscle damage accumulated over weeks of hard training
Allow your body to rest properly which also means getting plenty of sleep
Reduce the chances of illness/injury
*The traditional approach to this for longer distance road races is called ‘carbohydrate-loading’. This usually takes the form of increasing the amount of carbohydrate in your diet to ‘max-out’ your glycogen stores ahead of race day, usually in the 7 days preceding race day.
In the case of ultramarathons, this is a practice that still occurs for the most part, however as a focused practice in the days preceding the race day, ‘carbohydrate-loading’ isn’t as important for ultra runners as these stores are topped-up during the race by ingesting carbohydrate-rich foods during the race itself.
Increase your mental freshness
Increase mental focus on the race
Allow you to focus on preparing for your race and on the task at hand
The psychological aspect of tapering is one that doesn’t necessarily get easier, but during this time try and use the extra time you have not running, to eliminate some race day worries.
Some things you can do are…
Check the race details
Take some time to check the race details that you have been sent to ensure you know all the important info, especially travel and parking details and what time you need to be at registration.
Depending on the type of race, the event organisers may or may not have a mass start. Since the re-opening of race events due to the pandemic, some race organisers have gone back to mass starts, others have continued with start ‘waves’. Check your start/wave time to ensure that you are there when you need to be.
Take a look at the race route so that you know exactly where you are going! Depending on the type of race again, there may be signage all along the route as well as marshals to direct you, however don’t assume that just because they are there, the opportunity to go off-course is eliminated! If possible, try and ‘recce’ the whole route or some of the more tricky sections to avoid any mishaps.
It’s also worth checking the course profile too, so you know where the flats, uphills and downhills are. Where possible you would have prepared for this during training, but if not, it can be useful to have in mind where these are so you know what to expect and when.
NB. This maybe a good exercise to do with your coach not just in the week or two before, but certainly in the months leading up to the race if it is your Goal/‘A’ race to plan your training, fuelling and hydration accordingly and get all of these things ‘dialled-in’.
Other things to check are where the water/aid station positions are and where the all-important bag drop-off location/s are situated.
Use this time to purchase any last minute bits that you may not already have. Check the kit list, especially regarding mandatory kit lists for trail and ultramarathons to make sure you have everything you need. Most of these things you would have purchased a while ago and have tried them in training, however spare head torch batteries and blister plasters may have been forgotten and therefore require a quick trip to the shops.
Flat-lay your kit
‘Flat-lay’s’ have become quite a thing on social media, but regardless of the posting of these on your Instagram profile, they can be really useful as a way of checking you have everything you need. Pack and re-pack your bag to be doubly sure you have everything ready to go.
These and other things that will set your mind at rest come race day are really important and will give you the peace of mind you need to know you are ready to race.
WHAT SHOULD I BE AWARE OF?
Tapering can be easy for some and more challenging for others, as little doubts can creep in and knock you off balance.
You can go from feeling great during training weeks to heavy and lethargic during your taper - DON’T PANIC - it’s all part of the process!!
Then there’s the ‘taper tantrums’!!
WHAT ARE THE ‘TAPER TANTRUMS’?
This tends to be a psychological response to the job at hand. Questions creep in like…
Did I do enough training?
Was it specific enough?
What about those 2/3 training sessions or runs I missed?
Should I go out and run some more miles or another long run? (The answer is NO!!)
These and other questions are perfectly normal to ask, however try and STAY POSITIVE!!
Look back at your training diary and reminisce about all those wicked sessions and long, hard runs you did!
Speak to your training partner/s and/or your coach to reflect on the quality work you put in and the fact you ‘turned up’ every session!
Focus on your ‘why’ - why are you doing this race, for you, for a loved one, for a charity - this will give you the boost you need.
Tapering is where all your hard work comes together. Ride the wave of emotion, trust your training, stick with it and come race day you will be absolutely prepared to execute the race - your way.
RUN STRONG AND RUN CONFIDENT!
DON’T FORGET TO LOOK AROUND AND SOAK IT IN!
ENJOY THE RIDE! YOU’VE GOT THIS!!