I’m heading into my final long run for my fall marathon. How do I deal with the emotional roller coaster that is tapering? I’m all over the place and would love some tips. —Katie
Congratulations on your successful training cycle, Katie. Most runners have a like-dislike relationship with the tapering phase. On one hand, you’re done with the super-long runs and that feels good. On the other, anxiousness can set in as there’s less running to distract you. But just because you’re tapering doesn’t mean you have to go through madness on your way to the start line.
Here are three strategies for navigating the taper with less stress.
Your training plan gradually decreases mileage and then intensity as you make your way to race day. This is restful, but chaos in other parts of your life can be every bit as stressful as long, hard workouts. Avoid overbooking yourself in work and play and let yourself rejuvenate. Get to bed early, sleep in, and get the mental and physical rest your body needs to have a strong performance.
Surround yourself with positive energy and thoughts.
There’s nothing worse than spending time with a toxic friend or family member whose mission in life is to suck the joy out of others. During your taper, avoid those people as much as possible and prioritize time with loved ones who support you.
Create and repeat a taper mantra you can recite in your mind or out loud to keep your thoughts focused and positive. For instance, one of my favorite taper mantras is “I’m calm, I’m strong, I’m prepared.” It’s easy to remember, it calms me, and it reminds me that I’m ready for the race. This also makes for a great one-minute meditation the day before the race and at the start line.
Plan a realistic race-day strategy.
Fear of the unknown is what fuels taper madness. This is especially true if you’re a first-timer or reaching for a personal record. It can be cathartic to write out your race day strategy and goals. The key is to create a realistic, flexible plan. Include several to cover all that may transpire on race day: Plan A (good weather, health, and training), Plan B (decent weather, feeling average, okay training), and plan C (hot and humid weather, barely adequate training, and you were up all night due to the party in your neighbor’s room). Write out a strategy for every case, good, bad, and ugly. Doing so reduces the unknown and empowers you, with strategy replacing fear.
Along those same lines, it is wise to pace yourself by feel on race day. You’ll run with the flow of the day and your body and reduce the stress that comes from running too fast or too slow. It allows you to run smarter as you modify your pace based on your body’s response to hills, wind, heat, or perfect conditions. Read more about how to race by feel in this column.
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