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Taper dos and don'ts: how to rest up and rejuvenate

The dos and don'ts of tapering: how to rest up and rejuvenate

It’s taper time, and you’re likely feeling mixed emotions.

On one hand, you’re thrilled to have the months of intense training behind you. There are no more 20-milers or long, hard tempo runs looming on your calendar. But on the other hand, now that your training is over and race day is near, you wonder, “did I do enough?”. You may toy with the idea of squeezing in one more long run. Or maybe you think it’s a good idea to hit up a few intense yoga classes so you’re limber for the big event.

The taper occurs in the few weeks leading up to a big race. Most marathon training plans call for a three week taper. During the taper, your mileage drops off significantly. You rest more and run less to get your body in optimal shape for race day.

After months of training, cutting back on mileage so drastically can cause runners unexpected angst. But know this: a review of more than 50 studies on tapering found that runners who tapered well performed 3 percent on better on race day. That works out to 5 to 10 minutes coming off your marathon time.

Following these dos and don’ts of tapering can help ease stress and keep your body healthy for race day:

Do:

  • Kick your feet up and relax. It can be tricky to relax when you’re nervous for the big race, but spending time off of your feet is a must. Aim to get plenty of sleep each night and relax during the day.
  • Trust your training plan. Maybe you think doing one more speedwork session than your training plan calls for will help. Or maybe you feel so recovered (because of the taper) that you want to run hard again. But resist the urge to cram in extra miles, and trust your training plan. Runners who taper well perform better than those who run hard right up until race day.
  • Use your free time wisely. It can be hard to think about anything but your race, but obsessing over your goal may drive you crazy. Instead, spend your newfound free time on things you may have neglected during training. Catch up with friends or read a good book.

Don’t:

  • Don’t try anything new. Yoga is a nice complement to running, but if you’ve never done it before, save the practice until after you’ve crossed the finish line. Now is not the time to take up any new activities, eat new foods, or try new apparel.
  • Don’t overdo the carbs. There’s no reason to carbo-load unless you’ve been eating that way all throughout training. Carbs are vital for runners, but it’s important to eat other nutrients, too, like protein. Experts say that 55 to 65 percent of your calories should come from carbs, 10 to 15 percent from protein, and 20 to 30 percent from fat.
  • Don’t weigh yourself. Since you’re running less and not sweating as much, it’s common to gain water weight during the taper. Don’t see these pounds as a bad thing, though  and resist the urge to diet. Water weight actually helps to keep you hydrated during a race.

What’s your biggest challenge during the taper?

Written by Jenilee Matz, MPH. Jen is writer, runner, and new(ish) mom living in the suburbs of Charlotte, N.C.

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