7 Tips to Taper SMART

By Sara Johnson

Many runners training for a spring marathon are either in the middle of training or getting ready for taper. Any good training program will include a period of training at decreased mileage before race day. However this period, also known as tapering, is one of the most feared and misunderstood parts of training. Understanding what tapering is (and isn’t) and following a few simple tips will help you get the most out of your taper.

Taper is a time of rest and reduced workouts prior to a race. During this time, your body rebuilds, refuels and recovers from the weeks of hard training you have completed. Research has found that reducing training before competition allows muscle tissue damage to heal and the body’s energy reserves to replenish. The length of taper depends on the athlete and the race but is usually around three weeks for a marathon.

Many runners dread tapering because they are afraid of losing the performance edge they gained during training. But taper does not mean putting a sudden halt to your training, sitting on the couch, and eating ice cream. However, taper also is not time to be sneaking in extra runs. Extra running will not gain you anything in the last few weeks before a race. It’s time to trust your training and prepare your body.

Here are some tips to help you have a terrific taper:

1. Just because you are decreasing your mileage doesn’t mean you have to give up all of the intensity in your training. Run a few miles at race pace each week to remind your body what it feels like.

2. Don’t slash calories just because you aren’t running as much. However, realize that you don’t need to eat as much as you have been during weeks of hard training. If you start feeling “blah,” make sure you aren’t mindlessly snacking. And try to cut down on empty calories, such as soda and sweets.

3. Everyone knows that runners are supposed to increase their carbohydrate intake a few days before a big race, but that doesn’t mean you have to drastically increase your calories. Just focus on getting a larger percentage of your calories from carbohydrates.

4. Feeling antsy from not running as much? Catch up on tasks that you are behind on. You have been dedicating a lot of time to training. Surely there is a pile of dirty laundry, sink of dishes or friends who are feeling neglected.

5. Resist the urge to try something new during taper or a race. Even if you are spending your spare time researching the latest shoes, fuel belt or energy gel, a few days before your big race is not the time to experiment.

6. Prepare your race plan. Make sure you know where and when to pick up your packet. If you will be traveling to the race, finalize all of the arrangements. Figure out exactly what you need to wear and bring with you on race day and get everything ready to go.

7. Use this time to relax and visualize success on race day. Picture yourself at various points along the course feeling strong and confident. Set a goal and visualize crossing the finish line at that exact time. Mentally prepare for any “what ifs” that could occur during the race.

It’s the end of training. All of your mileage is done, and now it’s time to reap the rewards of your hard work. A solid taper will make sure you are ready for success on race day.

Dallas Running Examiner Sara Johnson is an RRCA-certified running coach who has been running for more than 10 years.