I’m in the heart of my marathon taper, and besides feeling incredibly fat and lazy, I also realize that taper is a necessary and vital part of marathon training. As important as the weekend long run, taper is the time where all that hard work from the last few weeks sets in and pays off on race day.
That said, it isn’t fun. My body is used to running an average of 76 miles a week, 84 at my peak week, and now that I’m running a fraction of that my mind and body are fidgety and unsettled. My view of taper has changed since my first marathon in 2009. And these rules reflect my growth as a marathoner and are gleaned from my experiences and those of others.
1)”Taper is not a vacation!” This one was hard to learn. In my first marathon cycle in 2008-2009 I treated taper as a two week easy running, lets-be-lazy break. And I paid for it in the race. In late 2009, when Megan started training me, it was a culture shock, since she had learned quite some time ago that while miles are reduced, intensity is not. Taper is a time to hone what we’ve gained in training, to keep the body sharp, while also allowing it to recover and grow from the training cycle. But we work hard during taper. Taper may, in fact, be some of the hardest mental training you will undergo in a marathon cycle.
2)You WILL feel poopy. Yes, I still struggle with this. Conventional wisdom dictates that as we reduce miles and get more rest we should feel super when we run. But the body is recovering and repairing itself and not all taper runs are going to feel great. Chances are if you feel like superman early in taper, then you might not have a great race because you peaked too soon. Also, while I believe that I can totally feel fat molecules accumulating to my body with every week of reduced mileage, and I walk around all day like fat Albert, saying: “Hey Hey Hey!!!” I am not getting fatter. I just feel that way. So believe that unless you are feasting every night, you will not get fat during taper.
3)Do NOT test your fitness. Trust your training. Taper is not a time to sneak in extra miles, to see if you have the speed you need, or to go crazy and race all your runs before your race. If you have dome your work in the training cycle, if you have followed thru on your workouts and not cheated yourself, then you will be fine. Trust your training and resist the urge to “test” your fitness.
4)REST! For me, taper means I no longer have to wake at 3:50 AM in order to get 10-12 miles before work. I can sleep a little later. This is vital to race performance. Your body repairs itself while you sleep. Sleep more!
5) The Hay is in the barn. At this point in my training, there is nothing I can do to get faster or stronger than to rest and have a smart taper. The hay is in the barn, and the most important thing to do is make sure the hay stays safe. That the kids from down the road don’t sneak up into the hay loft and smoke cigarettes and fool around in your hay, and maybe accidentally start a fire. And then there goes your hay up in flames. So protect the hay with a smart taper and tell those kids to get off your lawn!