The Agony of the Taper - Or how I learned to stop worrying and love my rest
Online articles and podcasts are currently awash with top tips and hacks for managing the anxiety associated with the marathon taper. The most striking thing about a taper is that we have more time. More time to rest, relax and recharge for the race. But also more time to worry, eat and allow unpleasant emotions to start to sabotage us before we even get to race day. As much as there are things we need to focus on doing in this 2-3 week period, there are an equal number of things which are helpful if avoided.
1. Maintain your training frequency and intensity. A reduction of volume is what we are looking for. Keeping some intensity in your runs will enhance your confidence and help to avoid the feelings of sluggishness which people often report during the taper. For example, where you might do 6 x 1 mile, reduce this to 3 x 1 mile at the same pace.
2. Address logistical decisions early. By the time you are at the expo, or in the last couple of days before the race, emotions will be heightened, and you may be tempted by panic decisions or unduly affected by small external problems. Book the train and hotel, make a plan to manage your time the day before and sort out your kit and race shoes. The start of the taper is a good time to address anything outstanding on this front. It occupies some time and means you can feel well prepared for the day ahead of time.
3. Spend time catching up with friends and family. You will have likely neglected doing so to an extent during the peak of your training and now is a chance to address that. It is a great opportunity to talk and think about something other than running. Remember, it might be an all consuming thing for you as the race approaches, but other people will have plenty of other concerns and interests. It is healthy for you to look outside and address the needs of others with the added benefit of keeping the race in perspective.
1. Do not start carb loading 3 weeks out by regularly eating your bodyweight in pasta. You have not fuelled your training in this way and there is nothing magical about the race which requires excessive intake. Eat sensibly and to hunger. Likewise stay hydrated but do not drown yourself.
2. Do not replace the running miles with excessive cross training or a mammoth DIY project. Such a strategy will likely start to overuse unfamiliar muscles and increase the risk of injury. Additionally, it can undermine the aim of the taper to leave you feeling rested.
3. Do not begin the creation of a series of spreadsheets designed to calculate your ideal race pace and factor in all potential weather conditions and other variables. Running is simple. You’ve trained your body and mind to know what to do when the gun goes. Trust the work you have done and let it happen.
So often in running we complicate the simple or undo the works of months in a matter of days. As soon as we name something, in this case THE TAPER, we almost give ourselves permission to delve into unnecessary and unhelpful minutiae. Instead, let’s celebrate reaching the end of our training having avoided illness or injury, always the biggest challenge of the marathon. Learning to rest and relax is as much a necessary part of a runner’s skillset as getting up at stupid o’clock to get in the hard miles. Don’t create mystery where none exists, enjoy the change in routine but see it as just as important a part of the preparation as all of the long runs have been.