The Taper is not the Grim Reaper of Training

“Don’t fear the taper; embrace it” – Rueffism on running

taper

During my brief time running and training for races, there is one aspect I have found there’s no right way or wrong way to do – the dreaded taper. I use the word “dreaded” because too many times when I have talked to fellow runners or when I hung out with friends who were runners many moons ago who would tell of “horror stories” about their taper.

Here are some of the comments I have heard from friends about their taper “horror stories” through the years.

“I had one of my worst runs during the taper. I almost didn’t want to run the race.”

“I got the worst head cold ever and missed some runs. I thought for sure there was no way I would finish the race much less come close to my goal time.”

“I gained six…SIX pounds from the time I began my taper to the morning of the race. How am I supposed to be fast if I gained six pounds?”

“I was getting so nervous the only thing I could do to calm my nerves was run another mile or two. That was in the evening after running my scheduled miles in the morning.”

“The taper. It’s brutal. I lose confidence. I dream of falling on my face at the starting line. I dream I am on my hands and knees crawling to the finish line.”

The taper was one of the parts which concerned me when I trained for the Indianapolis Half Marathon in 2013. When I devised my training plan for that race, Tad Frahm told me then the tapering phase is different for all runners. You could even have a different taper schedule for yourself from one race to the next.

I fall into the latter category as Ryan and I are now 17 days away from running the Mill Race Half Marathon in Columbus, Ind. For the 2013 half as Frahm liked to say I wanted to be “racy on race day,” but this time my goal is not to be fast. My ultimate goal was to get the miles in with Ryan and get us to the starting line Sept. 26 injury free so when we make the turn off 17th St. to Washington St. we finish strong – with the hope he’s standing at the finishing line waiting for me.

When I consulted Frahm and began to put this training plan together the taper weighed heavily on my mind. When should we start? How much should we cut back the first week of the taper? Should there be any extra “rest days?” Will two days off from our last run to race day be sufficient?

Since we didn’t do any specific workouts and just ran during training I found the taper to be the farthest thing from my brain for most of the summer. Then we ran the 13.3 miles Aug. 29. Later that day during my work shift it dawned on me – “We must begin the taper.”

I actually began to panic. The previous questions above circulated through my head for the rest of the day. After work, I stopped at CVS and bought two bags of ice. Once I filled up the tub to waist level with water and then dumped the ice into it I hopped into the tub. To keep my mind off the cold as I used my Therawheel on my quadriceps, I thought about the taper.

There is a reason to be apprehensive about the taper because to an extent the most important part of the training cycle. In the Runner’s World Big Book of Marathon and Half-Marathon Training research has shown according to a study in Journal of Applied Physiology runners improved their performance by three percent when they dropped their mileage in the three weeks before a race.

The study was performed by the Human Performance Laboratory at Ball State and also revealed “if you can back off the volume considerably, you’re not going to lose any cardiovascular fitness, plus your muscles are going to recover in a way that in advantageous to your performance.”

I decided we would go one more week of 30-plus mileage. Our long run last Saturday would be 10 miles – going through most of the subdivisions we ran in the previous week for the 13.32. This week we would begin cutting down the mileage. We would run our normal schedule with Sunday and Thursday as our off days and the long run would be Saturday of eight miles.

Our neighbors down the street were going to run with us on Labor Day, but one of the sons is on the cross country team at local high school and ended up having an eight-mile-trail run with his team. We decided we are going to run together this Sunday prior to church. It’s a chance for Ryan to again run with a group before running with 2,000 people at the end of the month. Not as good a barometer as I would like, but so many of the races lately were on Saturdays or were totally overpriced for a 5k – the Colts 5k comes to mind at $45. Think about this – we paid $5 more for the Mill Race Half Marathon compared to the Colts run.

With running long Saturday followed by the run with the neighbors on Sunday morning, Monday probably will become a rest day. The rest of the week will go according to the original schedule.

Race week we’ll run Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday then not again until race day. That’s when we’ll see all the training including what we do these next two weeks with the taper payoff. We will be rested and ready to give our best with a strong finish at the Mill Race Half Marathon.

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