The Perfect Taper

Last summer I read an article about tapering that really stuck with me. In my opinion, many articles about the art and/or science of tapering have similar tone and recommendations, but this article was particularly memorable because it talked about how you can expect to feel during taper, not just how much to cut back and what the benefits are, etc.

I can’t recall exactly how I found the article, but it was written by six-time and oldest (at 37) Ironman World Champion, Mark Allen, on his coaching website, Mark Allen Online.

The article is called The Perfect Taper and does a great job explaining the sluggish, out-of-shape feeling that many of us experience during taper.

When athletes start to give themselves rest, the system in the body that responds to stress (which is the system that allows you to get up for big workouts) starts to shut down.”

He likens the taper to working on the engine in your car:

“You cannot have the engine running at the same time you are giving it an overhaul. You have to shut the engine off.”

My favorite part is where the article goes on to talk about what to expect during each week of the taper. It says that in the first week you will feel good because the energy system that raises the energy for workouts is still active, but since you are cutting back on volume, you build up some reserve energy.

I can relate to this! This is exactly how I felt during my 8×800’s in Arizona and during my tempo run just before returning from the holidays. I had cut back my long run that week to 13 miles, reducing weekly mileage, leaving me feeling much more fresh than I typically do for speed/tempo runs!

According to Mark, the second week of the taper is the worst you will feel. All systems that are normally high during training start to shut down and your body goes into “hyper-recovery mode”. You will feel terrible, your legs will feel heavy,  you won’t be motivated and you will feel like you are getting out-of-shape. 

Um, hello. This completely describes how I started feeling as of about Tuesday last week!

Fortunately, the article tells us to “Have Faith!”. Because in week 3 (and 4, since this article is based on Ironman training) of the taper, your energy will start to come back and you will feel that spark again! He says it is important not to go too hard and test yourself because of how great you feel, but to understand that feeling of being able to barely contain yourself is exactly what you are looking for. 

As of this morning, I can say that I am starting to feel this take affect. What felt like a really slow pace to begin my short speed workout was actually my marathon pace for the early miles. I definitely don’t feel like I can’t contain myself yet, but I imagine after a short 3-miler Thursday, then two days completely off, I will be itching to let go!

The final portion of the article discusses some tips (volumes, timing, intensity) on tapering for an Ironman. I found the most interesting part of this the recommendation to take naps, reduce workload (if possible) and not to fill the extra time with anything but being sedentary. Of course, all of that is in an ideal world, but hey, I will be doing my best to try! 

I have to say that this article is a lifesaver and confidence builder for me after my last couple of runs (before today). After Saturday’s 7-miler, I couldn’t even imagine running a marathon. I was lethargic, weak and overwhelmed by the distance I will be tackling in a matter of days. Digging up this article and re-reading it has helped me relax and know that the time and effort has been put in and I am ready to run.

With this in mind:

Goals for Race Week

  1. Get at least 7 hours of sleep every night with 8-9 on Friday & Saturday.
  2. Drink at least 3 24 oz. Polar Bottles a day.
  3. Eat clean and healthy, reduce fiber after Thursday.
  4. Complete 2 runs, at no more than 8 miles total.
  5. Complete 2 easy cross-training workouts.

Any comments or thoughts to add to the whole topic of taper?

About Corey

I am a 30-something swim, bike, run addict married to my best friend and in love with my two schnoodle doggies.
This entry was posted in Goals, Races, running, training. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Perfect Taper

  1. Laura says:

    What a helpful article! I’ve heard of those general themes in the tapering, but never read it spelled out so clearly, with an explanation. I love those races when I’m just itching to let loose and go… here’s hoping that’s our experience Sunday morning! 🙂

  2. Emily says:

    This article was published in Lava Magazine (I think) right before my IM taper started, and it was a HUGE help in writing my taper and race week plans and getting through all the ups and downs! I agree, descriptions of how you might feel are helpful.

  3. Love this and think it ties nicely with my feelings in my “taper lazies” post. My body was definitely slowing down and moving into hibernation mode. I did run this morning and had a good run and felt good after the first 1/2 mile. Looking forward to seeing how these training plans treat us on Sunday! 3 days….

  4. hmm so truly based on what i’ve been doing, this is probably week 2 for me…i’ll take it 🙂 energized over sluggish. Long 4 week tapers have just never worked for me, so I started to go with some of the newer theories about much shorter tapers…we shall see 🙂

    • Corey says:

      I would love to see any articles you have found on shorter tapers. I wonder if that might be something good for me to try out too. The sluggish part is very tough on me mentally. Also, since this article was focused on the IM distance, where athletes could be training up to 20-30 hours a week or more, there is much more volume to cut back, making that 4 weeks seem more necessary than in marathon training.

  5. Pingback: Weekly Recap: MARATHON WEEK! | Schnoodles of Fun!

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