Updated: Apr 15, 2019
Spring racing season is just around the corner and that can only mean one thing…marathon runners around the world are about to start tapering!
This is one phase of training that often presents unanticipated challenges. After training hard for 12-18 weeks, you would think that a break in the action for recovery would be a welcomed change of pace. If this is your first marathon, you might not have anticipated the taper madness.
During taper, the goal is to give your body a break so that you recover for optimal performance on race day. Each week your training volume and to a lesser extent your intensity will decrease. All of a sudden, you have extra time on your hands and you aren’t sure what to do with that time. Some people have doubts that creep in and others don’t want to follow the decreases in the plan.
For marathoners, this phase may last up to 3 weeks. While this can seem like an eternity, having strategies to embrace this phase of training can be a secret strength. This is when doubling down on your mental game will give you the final edge for race day. Half marathoners get off the hook with a 1 week taper. Usually this isn't long enough for the taper tantrums to surface but knowing the mental strategies will help you focus for race day.
What should you be doing with this time that is productive and helpful?
Treat yo self – Race training is intense and I would be willing to bet that you have given up some things to dedicate time to running. Schedule a date night with your significant other, grab coffee with friends, go see the show or do the thing that you have been putting off while you’ve been tired from your training. This is also a great time to schedule a massage, a few yoga classes, or a session at a salt cave for some quiet meditation. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health!
Review your training log and remind yourself of all the hard work you’ve done – One of the best recommendations that I’ve seen for race day preparation comes from Kara Goucher as written in her book, “Strong.” She shared her struggles with feeling worthy of toeing the line next to other elite athletes. To combat this, she started to write her training in a journal with the point of highlighting what was positive from the workout. Then the night before the race, she reviewed this log and reminded herself that she belonged at the start line. She did the hard work and I know that you have too.
Do the extras – As runners, we are not often as dedicated with our supporting habits as we are with logging miles. If you’ve been slacking on form drills, stretching, rolling, or core strength work you now have time in your schedule to pick up the slack.
Myofascial release (by foam rolling, use of lacrosse balls, or other tools) helps to break up the adhesions in our muscles so that we can maximize range of motion. We often do not realize how much tension we carry in our muscles as a result of hard workouts and stress. Over time, this can limit motion and cause pain. This is a great time to roll out your legs on a foam roller or roll a lacrosse ball under your feet. Try to spend about 2 minutes per area when rolling.
Core strength workouts help us to maintain proper form over long periods of time. With proper form comes efficiency and power. Having efficient movement patterns means that we will conserve energy. Need help getting started with the basics of core stability training? Catch up on this post with workout suggestions.
Rehearse your mental success - Do you have a routine that gets you in to the zone? It's great to have pre-race routines that are the same warm-ups you do before speed work and long runs. That familiarity can be settling when transferred to the big event.
While you have the time to think calmly, review some scenarios that either have happened to you during a race or could potentially happen at this race. The point of this exercise is to think of your strategies so that you don't have to waste precious mental energy on race day. Know the course elevation so you can plan effort accordingly. Review the water stops so that you can plan gel intake and decide if you need to carry your own water.
Finally, experiment with your breathing to help your energy. As we inhale, it ramps the body up, increases our heart rate and fuels our adrenaline. When we exhale this has a calming effect that decreases our blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle tone. If you feel like you need to get ramped up before a race, take deep breaths in and short breaths out. Breathing at a faster rate will get your body primed for high performance. When you are jittery and need to feel calm, make sure that your exhale is longer than your inhale (Think 1 count in and 2 counts out). Intentional slow breathing is very relaxing. The breath should always be in and out through your nose.
Read - I have so many recommendations for pre-race reads but I would have to say that my top two mental reads are: Brave Athlete: Calm the F*ck Down & The Champions Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train and Thrive. They both offer different tips and strategies to help you get a clear mindset around how to be successful during training and at the race. Brave Athlete has a number of exercises that really make you think about the way that you approach training.