Embrace the Taper? – Not That Easy for a Runner!


Tapering Prior to Your Race Can Be Stressful!

Okay.  So you’re now in the heart of spring marathon and half-marathon season. Boston is just over a week away and a lot of other popular marathons and half-marathons are scheduled for April and May.  You’ve been following your training schedule and probably doing several long runs.  At this point, you feel you’re trained, although maybe feeling a little fatigued.  You’re done with your last long run, and then you announce to the world, “I’m now tapering!!”  Oh boy, everyone around you will feel the need to duck or run for the hills!

Tapering is supposed to be your time of rest before your race–time for your body to relax and store energy for the big day.  Time for you to sit back and reflect upon all the hours upon hours of disciplined running that sucked up your life for the past four to six months, and a time to ponder your upcoming race.

But wait–why do you feel so stressed?  Guilty feelings start to surface and the need to put your running shoes on and go for a 15-mile run becomes overwhelming.  Man, this tapering thing feels unnatural.  You’re cranky and the people around you, don’t want to be around you.  You even get this weird thought that if you taper, all your training will be lost and your body will deteriorate in a matter of just a few days.  You can’t do this taper thing, although all the pros tell you it’s essential.  What do they know?  You keep staring at your running shoes thinking, “I need to put them on and go.”  No, wait, I can’t.  So you keep talking about your upcoming race to everyone, including pets.  At least they listen.  Darn you’re stressed!!!

Ok, let’s be serious.  Many new and seasoned runners get  stressed out during the taper process, as well as before their race.  It’s actually natural.  This is where my saying comes in again, “The Mind Controls my Body, My Body Does Not Control my Mind.”  Just as you could this mantra while training, you can also use it during the taper process.  Look at it this way:  You spent four to six months, or longer, getting into peak shape; do you really think your body is going to collapse in just two or three weeks?  The answer is no, it’s not.  Trust me–if you chill out, do a few maintenance runs, and let your body rest during this period,  you’ll be amazed at the results of your race.

When I started running marathons, I had no idea what tapering was.  Never heard about it, probably because I never talked to a runner or read books on running or marathons.  I had no training plan.  All I was told was to be sure I got in about three 20-mile training runs.  I was so green; I was still doing 14-mile runs the week prior to my race.  I had about four marathons under my belt before I found out about this tapering thing.  As it turned out, I found it very stressful for me to back it down two weeks before my race, and probably felt the same feelings you may be experiencing yourself today.

What I do now, is taper for two weeks prior to a race.  Some coaches say to taper three weeks prior, but for me that’s way too long.  That said, if you have a coach, just listen to him/her, and simply do what they say. Keep in mind, tapering is just as important in the process of training as all your training runs!  Nervous energy that builds up during the tapering period truly pays dividends during a race.  Your body ends up fresh, rested and ready to go.  So, do everything you can to relax and embrace the taper.  You worked hard, you earned this period of rest, and your body will reward you very well on race day!  Good luck with your tapering, and your upcoming race!


How do you approach your taper? Post your comments!


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  • Becky says:
    April 06, 2012 1:46 PM

    Thank you for this post, Jim. I have only done a few big runs, and I always, under the advice of my smart running friends, taper off before a big one. It is so hard! But I am a busy girl, so instead of running I’ll just do a few extra nights of salsa dancing and then be sure to get 2 or 3 solid days of rest before my run.

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