Tapering and ‘Taper Syndrome’- what’s it all about?
You’re into the final week leading up to your big race – the marathon –you’ve been training for it for months, slowly increasing volume and intensity over time until you feel confident and ready to smash your target time – you did your last long run 2 weeks out from the big day and it went well – and then you go into ‘taper’, and it’s like a bomb has gone off in your central nervous system!
This is typically how it works – lets say you’ve been building up to 6 hour running weeks over the last few months – a nice mixture of long easy aerobic runs, some hard intervals, some race pace ‘tempo runs’ and some recovery runs as needed – your body has become accustomed to your training volume, and craves it – then, 2 weeks out, you cut that volume in half, and in the final week by half again – your 2 runs in the week leading up to your big race are so small they hardly seem worth it!
Whilst everybody reacts in different ways, most people suffer common symptoms. Most likely, your energy levels will have dropped significantly last week, and you feel like crap, you are cranky – your midweek run was average at best, when you thought you would crush it. You felt even more tired and sore than when you were training heavily.
This is a natural over-compensation thing the body does when it’s finally given some rest. It is known as the Taper Syndrome and it happens to almost everyone.
Without knowing it, you’ve been carrying a high level of fatigue around for months, and all of a sudden, when you start tapering your body is starting to rid itself of that fatigue – it’s a shock to the system, and explains why you feel the way you feel in the first few days/week of your taper – hopefully by now, in the final week, you are starting to feel good again – everybody is different, so don’t panic if you’re still feeling a bit off.
Once that part is over, your body and mind will continue to store up the energy that’s been depleting your body and you’ll feel better and better until race day.
Even in your short workouts this week, you may feel a bit groggy or lethargic at the start then start to feel better and better as you get into it. As race day approaches, that feeling will be shorter and shorter. You’ll feel better sooner and sooner. You’ll start to look forward to your race, and will be itching to get after it by the time the gun goes off.
As that happens, it is very important not to overdo things and do more than suggested. Stick to the plan. All the training you can do has been done, you are NOT going to get fitter in the final week. If you do too much, you’ll set yourself back instead of taking steps forward.
So what to do and what not to do in the final week?:
- Panic yourself into trying to cram in some last minute ‘training’ – now is the time to relax, allow your body to absorb and adapt to all the training you have done, and get fully charged for race day.
- Be tempted to do or try anything new on race day – stick to what is tried and tested, whether it be running shoes, energy gels for the race, or your breakfast.
- Worry if you don’t feel 100% – everybody reacts differently to the taper process, and 2 weeks is more than adequate if you stick to your plan.
- Finalise your race and nutrition strategy – be 100% clear at what pace or heart rate you are going to run at, what nutrition you are going to use, and when, so that you don’t get carried away with big day excitement.
- Make sure you are clear on race day logistics – where are you going to park?, what time will you get there, when/what will you have for breakfast?, where are the aid stations/toilet facilities on the course, what are you going to wear? – being clear in your mind on all of these points can save you a lot of stress on the day.
- Pay attention to the 4 pillars of performance: sleep, hydration, nutrition and rest – get as much sleep as you can – you can’t store it, but you can catch up – likewise with nutrition – you can only store a certain amount of carbohydrates in your system, so rather than go for the old school method of a huge bowl of pasta the night before the race (which will likely leave you feeling bloated and unable to sleep), make sure you have 1 portion of good quality carbs (brown rice/sweet potato) each day in the week leading up to your race. Make sure you are well hydrated, and make the most of your downtime by relaxing, and spending quality time with your friends and family.
- Visualise crossing the finishing line on or just ahead of your target time – the mind leads and the body follows.
I hope this has helped clear up any nagging questions or anxieties you may have, for anything more specific, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Good luck with your race!