Tapering, take 2!

I’ve written about tapering in the past, but felt it was worth writing about again as I approach my next half-marathon this coming Saturday. I’m running the nation’s largest half-marathon, The Indianapolis Mini-Marathon with 35K+ other runners in Indianapolis, IN.

35,000 runners participate in the Indy Mini-Marathon. The course takes runners around the Indy 500 Speedway track!

What prompted this post was all the “taper tweets” I’ve been reading this morning.  Many runners are worried about doing too much or not enough in the last 7-10 days leading up to their race.  I totally understand dear friends!

First off for all my new runners out there you might be asking, “Tapering?  What’s that?” Tapering is the final days leading up to your big event when you workout less so as to get the recovery you need for race day. Whether it’s a 5K, 10K, 15K, Half, Full or Ultra marathon it really doesn’t matter. All of these have a little taper time before hand.

In my opinion and experience, how much tapering you need depends a lot on your amount of current running experience, the distance you’re going in your event and the number of races you’ve run prior.  All of this combined should fit into a plan of what works best for you.

For me, I tend to taper for 7-10 days before anything less than a full-marathon. So two weeks out from this half I did a final 10 mile long run. Last Friday I did a 6 miler and primarily rested over the weekend except to do yard work. This week I rested Monday and I’ll do short runs Tuesday and Wednesday.  I lifted last week on two days and did a very light (high rep) full body weights routine today (Tuesday).  I’ll be finished with any weight lifting after today.  Thursday I will go to the gym and do something non-impact like cycling, elliptical or maybe just walking on the treadmill while I watch ESPN.  🙂 Friday I will take off completely (and sleep in past my usual 4:30am wake-up call) since the race is the next day.

One big component of my tapering is stretching.  I normally stretch after every workout, but I will take a little extra time to stretch my IT Bands, glutes, legs, shoulders and back.  Basically, instead of doing 2-3 sets of stretches I will do 3-5 sets adding 10-15 minutes of extra stretching. Many times I’ll also use my foam roller at night to make sure I have all the knots worked out of my legs.

As for diet, I don’t change much in the taper zone.  2-3 days out from the race I do eat a little more pasta….mainly because I really LOVE pasta!  There is a lot of hype around carb loading, but I’ve read the actual research studies and while stored muscle glycogen (sugar/carbs) is a limiting factor for performance (sorry about the geek speak), the average runner doesn’t get a lot of benefit from carb loading. As long as you rest a couple days before an event, your muscle glycogen stores will increase just from not exercising.  You’ll also want to replenish during the event/race with Gatorade, gels, etc. at regular intervals. Basically find what works for you and stick with it.

Actual breakfast not shown....wrong cereal.

For me, I eat a measured serving of cereal, a banana and a cup of coffee a couple hours before the race.  15-30 minutes out from the start I pop a GU Energy Gel and then continue to take more gels as the race progresses usually every 30-45 minutes. I also use the provided water and Gatorade on the course. I might be overloading on the carbs, but it doesn’t bother my stomach so I stick with the plan. I also don’t have to worry about hitting the wall at mile 11 and crawling to the finish line.

Remember, tapering is a good thing! You won’t lose the ability to run long distance in a week…or even two weeks. I’ve even had races where I didn’t workout at all 5-6 days before an event and did fine during the race….including earning a PR by over 8 minutes!  I chalk it up to being well rested.

Tapering is also a time to make sure you are getting extra sleep.  If you are a morning exerciser, sleep in those last two days before an event and get your 8 hours (or more if possible).  If you are an evening exerciser use the gym time to get a few things done early so you can get to bed early.  Don’t waste the time on the TV…that’s why we have DVR!  🙂

Active.com had a decent article on Tapering today as well if you’d like to check it out! Also, Runner’s World had a good article on Recovery days today. Though not specific to tapering it speaks well to recovery which is what tapering is all about!

Happy Training and see you on Race Day!

-Brian

Follow mw on Twitter @TheRunningMan23

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