Tapering. When I first started running, the word tapering meant as much to me as fartleks, though the latter being something that brought more laughter (or at least a smirk) for quite some time with me. : )
However, I soon learned that it MIGHT not be such a good idea to run a 10K the night before I ran a 10K race…EVIDENTLY, even if a 6-mile run is what you usually do on Fridays, when you have a race the next morning, it may not be the best idea.
Well, I am hoping that most of you know, especially those preparing for distance races, tapering your runs (reducing your miles) the week (or two) prior to an all-out long-distance race is an important part of experiencing race success – a well-rested body means you have deeper reserves to draw from.
But I’m not too concerned with THAT aspect of tapering, but I am often surprised by what some runners do that week before the race . . . every race there are runners who don’t understand why they tanked after following their running plan — INCLUDING the taper.
Although there are many reasons a race experience can fall flat (starting out too fast, over training, under training, weather conditions, etc.), the one reason that some runners don’t consider is the way they treat their bodies that week or so prior to a long-distance challenge.
As the running miles reduce and the body recovers, runners will often start to feel more energy and be more alert (as they’re not getting up at 4 a.m. for a run). So, instead of bedtime being at 9 or 10, it could start pushing midnight. A sleep-pattern change just before a race? Not a good call. If you usually go to bed at 9 or 10, stick with it!
Also, with that extra energy and time, some runners might be tempted to take on a project — clean out the attic or basement room, turnover a garden, powerwash the house, etc. The problem is, although you don’t need to be a slug, doing things you don’t normally do every day means sore muscles, possibly pulling or straining something, and it sure takes the benefit out of the word “recovery” (which a taper is designed to provide).
BUT how about just reading a book? Indoors? Go for it. Outside – the sun and/or heat can suck a person’s energy levels to zero and can even impact them into the next day. I would advise still being active during the week (not just reading the week away), but limit it to your taper runs, maybe some walks (no all-day excursions), and your normal daily activities (UNLESS that includes heavy-duty weight workouts).
How about just going out and push-mowing your lawn or riding your lawn mower the day or two before your race? Nope. Not only is it exposure to the heat and sun, but a lot of people have allergies that they’re not even aware of . . . those minor allergies impact how well your lungs work (especially if it has been dry out and the mower is kicking up a lot of dust, pollen, etc.).
And think about it. Let’s say you have super-mild allergies that only compromise your lungs/your ability to get oxygen into your blood stream by 5%. Well, what if I gave you a magic formula that could increase your lung capacity and get 5% more oxygen to your muscles with every breath, meaning better muscle/endurance performance? A lot of people would pay for that!
The point is, even if you don’t necessarily test as allergic to something, sucking in a lot of pollens, grass dust, molds, etc. does NOTHING to improve your ability to run and may very likely hurt your run.
Of course, there’s always the temptation to start eating a little differently, which is something you should wait until AFTER the race to do.
So, as you continue to train for your fall race(s), remember your mileage taper is important to take seriously, but cutting your miles back doesn’t mean you’ve arrived. To get the best out of your months of training, make those taper days the days you do things (or don’t do things) IN LIGHT OF your upcoming race. Then you will know that you’ve really done ALL you could have done to accomplish your goals!