Focus on areas of your training that you normally don’t prioritize.
Some runners love the taper, but the majority start to go stir-crazy in the weeks and days leading up to the big race. We may train to race but a part of us loves the training, the miles, the endorphins we get. But, in order to race our best we must give our legs and body a required reduction in volume and intensity.
Enter the taper, a necessary ‘evil’ in the quest for a PR. Surviving those low-key weeks and avoiding falling victim to taper madness is an exercise in self-control. The most effective method is to keep yourself distracted; by shifting focus to distractions that can actually improve your race and also make you feel like you’re doing something proactive will help absolve some of that ‘runner’s guilt’.
“Staying ‘sane’ during taper. Ha! I’m not sure I’ve mastered that yet,” jokes Whitney Bevins-Lazzara, 2:41-marathoner of Hudson Training Systems Elite. “I try to stay busy with other things; spending more time with my dogs, reading and baking. I love staying busy so just making the conscience effort to rest is important for me.”
Essential Non-Taxing Training Extras
Practices like stretching and self massage are important during all training times but because most runners have jobs and busy schedules, fitting these things in during high volume weeks can be tricky. As your mileage starts to decrease and consumes less of your time during your taper, start filling it with these non-strenuous training supplements.
By dedicating yourself to a full dynamic and static stretching routine you’ll keep yourself limber and loose. It’s still engaging physically so you will still feel like you’re helping your running. Self massage any kinks and knots to make sure you go into race day feeling your best and injury-free.
“During training and tapers I like to efficiently maximize the time that I have for recovery and injury prevention,” Sergio Gonzalez says. “I keep multi-purpose training tools nearby that allow me to stretch and roll tight muscles and trouble spots anywhere, like the SKLZ Accuroller, [and] schedule a massage on a day off or light training day to ensure I have taken every opportunity possible to be ready for my next workout or race.”
Before you step to the line, every runner needs to have a race plan. In fact you need to have a few strategies so you know exactly how you’ll respond to any situation that can occur during the race.
“Marathoning for most of us is very individual. I’d say strategy is more time- and course-oriented,” explains Bevins-Lazzara. “We know ahead of time what we’d like to run, do our best to run that pace and be in tune enough with our bodies to adjust to the conditions of the day.”
You don’t want to have to think while you’re running, so by having things planned well in advance it will reduce your stress and combat pre-race nerves. Spend the taper weeks devising these racing strategies. Be sure to include and remember:
- Negative splits are the most effective way to race.
- If your race is long enough to require fluids and fuel, know exactly what and when you will be taking those in.
- Seek out and run the tangents on the course.
- Know your specific course: uphills, downhills, etc.
- Know your competition (when applicable) or someone around your pace who you can key off of and use to help push yourself to your best.
- Weather conditions: “Heat. I hate the heat, but I’m not always gifted with 45 degrees and sun so you make adjustments. Typically in hotter weather it’s good to be a little more conservative early and take in more fluid than you are used to during a race,” shares Bevins-Lazzara.
- Backup plans: go in with a best case scenario plan, then know how you will respond and adapt that plan if other factors come into play. (ie: race goes out faster/slower, you’re not feeling well, splits are off, etc.) “Weather isn’t the only obstacle one might face during a race. Regardless of what throws you from your race plan, keep fighting, keep your head held high and finish. There is always someone having a worse day,” Bevins-Lazzara says.
Finally, know exactly what you will be wearing come race day. Make sure you’ve run in both your clothing and shoes before, and tested them during a hard workout, to ensure they don’t cause any issues like chaffing or blisters. NEVER try anything new the day of a race.
Use some of that extra time to work on the mental training of performing your best. Practice the art of visualization, which will help you stay relaxed, controlled, and running mentally tough during your race. It will also help reduce the amount of nerves and anxious energy leading up to the big day and the starting line.
The more you practice visualization, the more effective this training tool becomes. Begin by closing your eyes in a quiet space and picture yourself from warm-up all the way through to the finish line. Use as many details as you can and incorporate as many senses as possible, making it feel most realistic. Pay special focus to the points of the race when the pain will inevitably start becoming more present. Then, practice feeling relaxed and confident. Remind yourself you’ll be sure to keep your form efficient, key off of the runners around and ahead of you, and how you will combat any negative thoughts.
The better able you become at tapping into that smooth, relaxed space before the race, once you’re actually experiencing it, it will feel rehearsed. You’ll then know how you will want to run. Remember you are strong and capable of running tough all the way through to the finish line.
Reminding yourself just how hard you’ve worked and the goals you have for this race will keep you on point and focused when things get uncomfortable. Motivation during these times is crucial, spend some time during the taper weeks on motivational tasks.
Find a power mantra that you will recite when the pain of racing sets in. Keep it short and pick words that really resonate with you. If you’re going to be racing with music, come up with a playlist, putting the most upbeat songs at the points in the race you’ll need the extra motivation the most.
Finally, tap into your creativity and make a motivational poster. Use pictures, sayings, even previous race bibs that are meaningful to you. Come up with true meaning behind the race at hand so when things start to hurt you can close your eyes and remember WHY you are running.
The days before a marathon, and any race, should be filled with ‘little’ ways to keep you excited but also distracted…you CAN get to the starting line fully sane.
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About the Author
Caitlin Chock (caitchock.com) set the then National High School 5k Record (15:52.88) in 2004 and previously ran for Nike. A freelance writer, artist, and designer she writes about all things running and founded Ezzere, her own line of running shirts (www.ezzere.com). You can read more, see her running comics, and her shirts at her website.