You are officially in the taper period of half marathon training! Yay, congrats and great work! I will not sit here and lie to you all. The taper is my absolute LEAST favorite time of any training season. In fact, I hate it. There’s not much that I hate, but I hate tapering. It may seem counter-intuitive if this is your first endurance event, because we’ve been waiting for the time we can rest, but believe me it can be a tough time mentally for some myself included. Understand that this too is a very important part of your training, just like all of the hard miles you’ve logged and the good nutrition habits you’ve started. The body needs this time so that it can perform at its best come race day. If done well, the taper gives you that edge that you need to race! You want to be completely rested and recovered going into your race, with no lingering aches and pains from training. Keep calm and hopefully YOU can enjoy the taper!
What is the Taper?
Tapering is as much an art as a science. The goal is to completely recover from all the hard weeks and months of work that you have put in during your training. It is time for the body to completely rebuild and replenish all of its systems, repair any lingering damage, and eliminate any built up fatigue. In a half marathon program, this occurs about 2 weeks out from the race day. We will cut the volume of the workload back down (i.e. the miles) but keep some of the intensity. Note that I said “keep” not “start.” If you’ve been doing speed work of some type: pace runs, tempo runs, etc., you will still do them but at a much shorter distance than previously. You will NOT add speed work now if you have not been doing it throughout and you will NOT increase the intensity. If you have been doing some speed, you want to do it still but in a much reduced volume. The goal is just to keep the snap in the legs and keep them used to the fast turnover. If you have not been doing speed and have no idea what a pace or tempo run is, don’t worry now is definitely not the time to start.
The taper is used to get an athlete to “peak.” You have probably heard this term for track athletes and for swimmers. Swimmers will often train hard up to and including their early championships. They will only rest, or taper, before their main goal event. That causes them to peak physically for that training cycle and their best times of the season come right after that taper period. They are like fine tuned machines all tuned up and ready for race day. That is us now too. Only with rest comes that peak. Some say that they’ve peaked too early and their best times come before their goal race. If you’ve followed an appropriate training schedule and done the work, taper appropriately, and that should lead to you peaking on race week.
Cut the volume of your runs. If you are following my plan on the Cap City Half Marathon site or almost any good training program, you will notice that after your last long run your total weekly miles will drop, your long run mileage will drop, and most of your week day miles will drop. This is the idea. You are still running some, you don’t want to stop completely but you are running less.
My Favorite Mantra – Nothing New on Race Day!
Again, I say it! In this case, it means no new running stuff. Don’t go out and try the best new training plan that the running magazine is touting (until after the race). Like I said before, don’t start speed work if you haven’t been doing it all along. No new shoes, no attempts at barefoot running, don’t go running on the sand in the beach in Jamaica (I’m still recovering from doing that – but I’m not racing in this week!). Nothing new . ALSO … now is not the time to try Cross Fit or Zumba, as great as they are and no matter how badly you want to try them. Don’t hit the weights at the gym if you haven’t been doing it all season. We want to recover fully not put our bodies through new stresses from which they need to recover further. This may seem obvious, but things that are physically stressful are not to be started right now! This includes activities like roofing your house, pulling out old landscaping and mulching your yard, hiking with your best 4-legged buddy. I’m not calling anyone out specifically, but these are real examples (well one of them is) from my favorite running partner of all time – you know who you are!
Aches and Pains
Part of the madness of the taper comes from these strange aches and pains that always seem to crop up during this time. Do not worry, most of these are normal. If something hurts or even feels off, TAKE THE DAY OFF. Don’t run. Just relax and get extra rest. If it still bugs you the next day or so, get in touch with your favorite sports med doc. Most of these aches and pains are your body’s way of rebuilding itself and some of them are in our heads, but not all. If it doesn’t get better with a couple days of rest, see your doctor. Also, stay away from people with obvious illnesses. After long runs, over about 1.5-2 hours our immune systems are a bit compromised. Maybe postpone the outing to the ultra-huge screen cinema until after the race. You want to do the normal things to prevent colds and such during this time: eat well, get good quality sleep, wash your hands, stay away from people who are sick.
Running More in the Taper Won’t Help but it Can Hurt
Can’t decide if you feel something odd in your foot? Don’t run today. Take the day off. If you’re feeling a little bit tired from yesterday’s long meeting with the boss, take the day off.
To be blunt, at this point in the training either you’ve put in the work or you haven’t. You cannot cram 16 weeks of training into the last week. Physiologically, you are not doing anything good for yourself by running more than the schedule calls for in this time frame. The adaptations necessary to get you to the finish line occurred during that 16 week time frame, not this last one. By running more now, we would only be tiring ourselves out and setting ourselves up for an unhappy day. If you have done the work, YOU ARE READY. Believe that. Your body is used to the work-recovery cycle that we have been asking of it these last 15 or so weeks. It knows what to do and your systems are in place now to make it happen. Taking an extra rest day here or there can only help you now. Make sure that you are resting and letting your body recover fully!
Believe me, I understand that you don’t want to skip a run. Runners have the reputation among other endurance athletes as being crazy obsessive type A personalities. I battle this stereotype all the time, but sometimes I am the perfect example of that exact thing – crazy and obsessive. The issue is that we love what we do. It has become our outlet, our stress relief, therapy, and go to “me time” of the day. After a run, our heads are clear and our bodies are pumped. Now I’m asking you to NOT do the thing that takes away the stress and for some that causes MORE stress! Don’t worry, no matter what your brain is telling you one or two extra days of rest are not going to make you instantly gain weight. You won’t immediately lose all the fitness gains you’ve worked so hard for these last few months, in fact you will be stronger for the time off. You won’t forget how to run fast. You may in fact gain a couple pounds over the next week or so, no big deal. It is most likely water as we tend to be dehydrating ourselves over the training cycle. It will all come back off come race day.
Strategies for dealing with taper madness are many. My favorite strategy is to take the time that you would normally be running and spend it with your support crew. Thank them for giving you that extra hour without the kids or for making dinner a couple nights a week, so you can run. Take them out to dinner. Remember what your wife looks like or what your husband’s favorite beer is and enjoy the time together. Sit on the sidelines at your daughter’s soccer practice instead of doing laps around the fields. Go out with the girls or the guys for a drink (but only one). Enjoy this time with them, thank them for listening to your stories of this mile or that. Talk with them about something other than running shoes and the miraculous powers of Body Glide.
Enjoy the taper. You’ve earned it. I am so proud of all of you and cannot wait to meet you on race week. I want to take this time to thank all of you for allowing me the privilege of working with you these last few months. I love going to random places and hearing from people “I am training for my first half marathon at Cap City!” It’s happened so many times: at Benny’s in Marysville, at Nurtur Salon, at the airport, at the post office. Amazing. Thank you all so much. Congrats on putting in the tough work. Rest up and recover well.
As always, email me if you have any questions. I can’t wait to see you all on May 4h!