Race Preparation tips #16: Taper is not a 4-letter word.

Tapering runners are often pictured as out of control monsters, with voracious appetites and a deep emotional need to run further!  It’s all true! The Taper is hardest on our minds – but that’s normal.

The logic of the human body in training is that muscles build and the body gets stronger in the rest times – not when we are out on the track/trail/road. Our normal training programs include natural run/recover/rest cycles. The taper is the longer version of the recover/rest part of this, and is crucial to enabling your body to be at its peak for race day.

To be in top condition for any event, tapering runners need to pay particular attention to the following:

Body stuff – ‘Taper flu’, muscle niggles and gripes are common during taper. This can be a shock for first-timers, but even experienced runners experience physical and mental issues in the lead up to a race. Some of this is your fears messing with your body; some of it is just your body settling. It’s normal. Don’t panic. Trust your training. If you think it might be serious, see your physiotherapist or myotherapist who will often set a good plan for getting you through your event.

Sleep – Get at least 8 hours sleep every night. Your body does amazing recovery stuff while you do nothing! Tip: Set an alarm on your phone or watch 1 hour before bed. Turn off all electronic devices, lock up the house, prep for the next day, write in your journal / read / do a little yoga or meditation or breathing control, etc to prep for sleep.

Nutrition – In recovery, you might naturally crave more / bad food. For the next 10 days, stay the course with your nutrition. You can dive back into the pies, pizza and beer immediately after your event (if that’s your thing). Tip: have healthy snacks on hand at work, in the car and at home.

Stretching and massage – in taper time, use the extra training time to do careful stretching. Spend extra time on the foam roller and spikey ball, especially in those tight places like calves, feet and glutes.  Up to 5 days out is a good time to get a massage too. Your body will love you for it. Tip: Check out Caleb McInnes’ post here.

Focus – Your physical training is done, now is a good time to focus on some mental stuff. Calming your mind/heart is an important part of the Taper, as is visualising the course and your finishing. Tip: Check out Kate Atkinson’s post here

Running – Just because you are tapering, doesn’t mean you are not running. Your long runs should be getting shorter by about 30% at a time, and your speed work should take a similar cut. The normal rule for the first 1/3 of a taper is to cut distance, but not intensity. My taper is 3 weeks. For the last week, you should be only doing one short session at race pace (NO FASTER!) – I’m planning 2x2km on Wednesday (with a warmup and cool down). A short Monday and Thursday or Friday easy run are good too. Just don’t be tempted to dial up the pace when your body is feeling so good. Save it for race day.

9 days out!  Running tip #16: Use the taper to prepare your body and mind to be sharp and ready for race day.




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