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Oh taper week.

Race day is four days away and I'm in the middle of my taper. Extra sleep, dinners with friends, and low miles are the preparation needed for a weekend race.

So what is a taper?

The idea of the taper week (or weeks if you're doing a full marathon or longer distance run) is that you give yourself some much-needed rest after the long training program. During training bones and ligaments are stressed, muscles break down, and energy stores are depleted. The taper week is a chance to recover a little from all those stresses. Bones, connective tissue, and muscles can rebuild. Energy stores can be replenished. Mental preparations can be finalized. Rest and recovery are essential for final race prep.

What to expect when you're tapering

1) Stretch it out

It's so important to stretch and keep loose, especially if your evenings are suddenly more "Netflix and Chill" than "mid-week long run." Yoga*, foam-rolling, massages, and light stretching are all great options.

2) Catch up on sleep

Oh gosh, my favorite part of tapering: SLEEP! After all the stresses of the last few months it feels amazing to just lie in bed and not worry about getting up to run. Or, in the evening, I don't have to worry about getting in intense training runs after work and getting wired before bed. Mmmm sleep.

Sleep is the best. (NOTE: This is NOT my image. Good ol' Adobe Stock.)

3) Beware the taper crazies

However, as you recover and cut back on hours spent on the road or the trail and save up energy for the race it's easy to go a little stir crazy. Call it cabin fever, call it restless energy, call it "taper crazies," call it whatever, but the struggle is real when you're used to being up and moving with intensity. 

Beware the "taper crazies." (NOTE: This is NOT my image. Good ol' Adobe Stock.)

4) Cross train

If you're counting on your body to do some final crucial healing pre-race but you're struggling with the "taper crazies" then cross-training is a great option. That might mean yoga, swimming, biking, hiking, soccer, or even...uhm...wood-chopping? (Or maybe don't do some wood-chopping. Trust me on this.)

Chop chop.

5) Manage your diet

I always struggle with diet during taper weeks, because on the one hand you're not spending as many calories, but on the other hand your body is still ravenous and you need calories for recovery. At the very least I make an effort to hydrate, often to the point where I feel like I'm pouring water down my throat and I'm drowning (I really don't enjoy drinking plain water though, so that's my personal problem). In terms of what food to eat, everyone is different. Some people go hard-core carbo-loading. Some do clean eating to help with healing and reduce inflammation. Some just live off peanut butter and nutella (ahem). The point, however, is that you should still eat decent calories and you should hydrate hydrate hydrate.

Hydrant? Hydrate? Something like that.

6) Figure out logistics

Well, are you surprised I'm waiting until the last minute to plan and organize for my trip?? No? Good. The extra time sitting on the couch means it's a great opportunity to do things like double check packing lists, confirm lodging and race waves, and comb through all the hairy details.

Make a to do list, a packing list, and plan other logistics in that extra time you have during taper week. (NOTE: This is NOT my image. Good ol' Adobe Stock.)

7) Soak it all in

Literally and figuratively I mean. There's nothing quite like soaking in a hot bath (or ice bath if you're sore), and taking a moment to meditate and visualize race goals. With all the hectic running in the months leading up to the race it's important to check in mentally, evaluate any aches and pains, and make sure I'm emotionally ready for the race. After all, much of running a half marathon is mental, so it's just as important to mentally prepare as it is to physically train.

Do you have any experience with tapering? Are there any issues you struggle with during taper week or any tips on how to manage the "taper crazies"?

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