How to Manage Marathon Taper
You hear about the "Taper Crazies" or see the rapid decrease in your Marathon Training Plan...but how does this all tie into your race day performance? When I was training for my first full marathon, I did notice that the milage dropped less and less a few weeks out from the big day, but just followed along like a good little girl not really thinking too much into it
(I was still oh so new to running at the time).
As I trained for more and more marathons, I began to experience those "Taper Crazies." You know, the dreams about stopping mid race to sit and eat pizza with the spectators, feeling antsy, always being hungry, obsessing over race day weather...need I go on?
I also learned more about THE WHY behind tapering during Marathon Training. I'm currently in the midst of tapering for the Pittsburgh Marathon, which is this Sunday (I can't believe it)! I've been been getting asked a lot of questions about this subject, which leads to why I'm writing this. I figured the more runners know and understand, the better!
So, what exactly is the Marathon Taper?
The length of a Marathon training plan usually ranges between 16-20 weeks. The final 3 weeks are what's considered the Taper Phase of training. The purpose of Tapering is to recover from the physical stress of training, improve your strength leading up to race day, along with improve your running economy (how much oxygen you need to run at a given pace) (Pfitzinger).
While tapering, you're reducing mileage while still maintaining fitness. Many runners undergo stress (aka The Taper Crazies) during this time because of going from high volume weeks to running less than half the mileage they're used to. Most runners experience feeling ill-prepared because of the milage drop, but there's something that all marathoners, or soon to be marathoners need to know... this recovery time is going to get you to the starting line even stronger. By working too hard during Tapering, you're putting yourself at risk for feeling flat during your race. This is your time to mentally and physically freshen up for race day, so embrace it!
According to research conducted by Pete Pfitzinger & Scott Douglas, the following guidelines have been determined when it comes to cutting back your mileage during tapering:
1. Third Week Pre-Marathon: Reduce mileage by 20-25%
2. Second Week Pre-Marathon: Reduce mileage by 40%
3. Marathon Week: Reduce mileage by 60%
The Taper Crazies, Do You Have Them?
Check the list! There's a 99% chance you've seen this picture across your newsfeed if you follow any marathoners on social media...
Kudos to RunnerInDenial.com because this "Taper Crazies" Checklist couldn't be any more accurate!
Ways To Manage The Marathon Taper Crazies:
1. FINALIZE ALL PRE-RACE & RACE DAY PLANS:
The race is enough to worry about! Figure out your meeting spots for your friends before the race, or family members afterwards. Triple check your hotel is booked, and write down all the different garages or lots you're allowed to park at race morning. Be aware of when and what roads may be shut down for race day as well. Knowing your route will eliminate stress race day morning.
2. JOURNAL YOUR THOUGHTS:
Being scatterbrained during this time is normal. You've trained for the past 16-20 weeks, and now race day is 1-2 weeks (or days) away! Recording your thoughts, good and bad, will help you see what keeps coming up. Notice patterns in your thoughts. It's common for doubt to creep in during this time, but there's a way to flip this mindset around. After journaling your thoughts, highlight the negative sentences or comments you write down.
Negative thought example:
The pace I want to maintain is going to feel hard on race day.
Then, flip this negative thought to a positive one:
The pace I want to maintain is going to feel EFFORTLESS on race day!
On a separate sheet of paper, write down all of your new and improved positive race-day thoughts. Keep this little piece of paper with you, or transfer them to the notes section of your phone...you can even turn these positive thoughts into alarms on your phone so you see them throughout the day.
Success Coach, Emily Williams always says "Changing your mindset is like downloading a new operating system." Essentially, that's what we're doing here. Reciting these new thoughts may seem strange, or false, but the more you read them and picture in your mind how it feels to experience those positive thoughts, the more you'll believe!
3. MONITOR YOUR NUTRITION & HYDRATION:
Often, runners feel bloated and heavy during tapering. It goes back to the Taper Crazies Checklist, "Half the mileage, double the appetite." Several runners (specifically marathoners) make the mistake of not decreasing their food intake during tapering, even though they're not burning as many calories. By being more aware about what you're putting into your body and making simple choices, it will go a long way! (Brown)
Simple Nutrition Taper Tips:
Whole-Food Carbs: baked yams, fruits, dairy (if tolerated), whole grains
Proteins: lean meats, beans, legumes, nuts, eggs, dairy, vegetables
Healthy Fats: coconut oil, chia seeds, avocados, olive oil
4. TALK TO YOUR COACH / MENTOR:
This is a great opportunity to talk through any other worries with someone who really knows you as a runner and as a person. This is also a great time for you and your coach to come up with your race plan/strategy for your big day! Knowing your plan for tackling the course will alleviate some stress and help you practice positive visualization.
Don't forget to get excited for race day! You've put in the work over the past several months, so let this be your time to enjoy all that you've accomplished so far, and look forward to your journey ahead!