Tapering off at the end of a training plan can make for some rough patches. Rough patches in your mental health, in your anxiety specifically and in the lives of anyone who happens to be around you. It has been for me at least sometimes. There is a consensus in the peer reviewed literature that tapering does help your race day performance. The combination of race day doubts, more free time and less stress relief really can take you for an emotional ride. Even if you know it’s coming, even if you try to hold it all in, tapering, especially the first time you tackle a distance can be mentally terrible. You might not be able to get to the point where taper days are ‘just another day’ but here are they things that you can do to make them all a lot better!
Make conscious choices
Taper time is a bit like falling off a cliff with no plan if you just let it happen. You can loose your favorite thing to do, your me time, your drug of choice and your self care regime all at the same time right when your race day nerves are ramping up. What ever you decide to do and how to handle your taper, decide something! Think about how it might be before hand make a plan of some sort either to replace all that training with something else you love, another goal to work on or with something you’ve been missing. Just make a plan of some sort and do some thinking about it before you get to the edge of the cliff.
You can also make some conscious choices about how much training you’re going to do in training. I usually taper a little more than the plan calls for. I just want more relief than that in the week after all those weeks getting to peak week. It’s worked out fine for me in the past on race day too. You might mess around a little with the frequency and milage suggested too. Right now I’m supposed to run two 6.5ks, a 5k and a 16k this week. All of that will not be happening. I want an extra day off this week for sure and I’m feeling like two 5s is the place to be along with that long run. Remember this isn’t the part of the plan that gets you over the line, it’s the part that gets you rested so feel free to listen to your body and your heart.
Take on a project
Probably the best thing you can do for taper time is to take on a bit of a bigger project that you’re excited about to do during your taper. This time around I’m switching my bedroom with my office. That means making some fancy new curtains (check) probably purging some stuff along the way, some deep cleaning and moving furniture around. Every woman out there knows that moving furniture is an effective way to deal with any sort of life stress. But it could be finally organizing the garage, selling all those clothes you don’t wear anymore or digitizing all your pictures or paperwork. Hell it could even be deep cleaning the house since you haven’t really done much since training started. You know all that stuff we should do but never really get around to. Having a 10 day project on the go means that your mind and your time will be occupied elsewhere.
You (probably) won’t get injured
It might be just me but during a taper I have this super irrational fear that if I do anything at all out of the ordinary I will end up injured and miss my race. This year it seems to have spread to honey too. Sure I worry a little about getting injured while training but if I want to race I have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. It doesn’t seem all that optional. But come taper time I look at every situation as a potential injury that would make all of this for nothing. So even though I would like to throw my mountain bike in the truck this week past me has learned that the moment I leave the trailhead I’ll be too much of a nervous Nelly to ride.
If you feel this way too tell me so I won’t feel alone but remember the odds of you breaking your leg are probably less this week than when you were training. If you’re going to feel that way anyway then don’t entertain thoughts where you’re going to get rock climbing this week because we all know you won’t.
Schedule other things you like to do
No one says you have to use this time to build a deck, learn a language or catch up on your taxes. If you just want to chill that’s cool too. In fact you probably shouldn’t do anything too physical because new movements could make you sore for race day. So this probably isn’t the time to start taking 3 kickboxing classes a week. But you could bake a cake, go to the salon, take a walk, read a book you know whatever it is you’ve been missing out on. So you could schedule social outings, maybe even the odd late night or even host everyone you’ve been saying no to at your place.
Get your diet right
Right before taper time comes the heaviest and busiest weeks of training and those weeks right before that is pretty busy too. I know that at the start of a training cycle I have healthy meals in the freezer, I’m packing healthy lunches I’m excited to eat, making overnight oats and I’m filling that water bottle every day. By the middle I’m definitely getting drive thru breakfast and that oh so needed second coffee and probably lunch most days too. But by the time we get to peak week it’s often cookies for breakfast, no real groceries in the house and lots and lots of takeout. It’s a good idea to use taper time to get back on track. So instead of eating most of a bag of chips in the evening you might get back into the habit of prepping and eating fresh fruit. This is a time where your body is supposed to be healing and resting up for race day so better fuel couldn’t hurt.
This is not the time though to go on a new extreme diet. So don’t suddenly decide to go keto, go on a calorie restrictive diet or embrace a vegan lifestyle. You can do all those things after race day if you like but for now perhaps just eat a little more like you used to if that’s gotten lax along the way.
I guess you could stay up later too if that’s your thing. I have a hard time with sleep and am usually in the qualifying territory for insomnia. For the 6 months previous my average time asleep is 5 hours and 38 minuets. When it comes to training that’s what holds me back almost as much as anything else and that is sleep. For me at least exercising more doesn’t make me sleep more though I do take the odd extra nap.
For most of us with regular lives training does mean we miss out on some hours of sleep or at least aren’t getting as much as we need. Taper time is a great time to really, REALLY prioritize sleep. It’s literally the most important ingredient in all that resting and repairing you’re aiming for at the moment. If you’ve been getting up early – sleep in, cramming all your housework into the late evenings – go to bed early, no weekend long runs – nap time. It might not be that simple though for me I try to go upstairs and start dark time a little earlier (which helps 5%) but I also let myself start work at least an hour later in the morning to catch up. You might have to do some thinking about what works for you but it’s totally worth changing your sleep routine in taper time. It’s really good to get super serious about this in the few days leading up to race day. That way if you can’t sleep the night before it’s not such a big deal and wouldn’t you know it that takes the stress off of you and you sleep like a baby the night before!
Have a race day document
Use this as a place where you put ALL THOSE thoughts. I’m not going to tell you not to obsess about race day in taper time because one it’s not going to work and thinking out a race day does make all the difference sometimes. Certain races like the longer virtual ones we’ve all come to know and say, triathlons do have A LOT of moving parts so thinking them through is totally necessary. It’s important to channel that energy though to only one place where it will actually do something. As things pop into your mind make a race day document ideally on your computer so you’ll have it again if you need it. I could be a checklist (here’s a starting point), a schedule for race day, the week preceding or a race strategy. That way it’s all put in a place where it might actually help you. By channeling it there you should find yourself less anxious and have a better race day overall. I might even suggest you give it an edit after the fact with forgotten things and what you might change. Plus, next time you’ll have an amazing jumping off point!
Plan your next race
The post race blues are real ya’ll. No one says that by the time your taper is over you have to have planned next season out down to the mile. Actually don’t do that at all but this is a great time to think about the next one. It doesn’t even have to be a ‘serious’ race. Is there a fun run you’ve always wanted to try? Might it be worth traveling next year for that really scenic half? What outfit is going to win you that coveted best costume award at the Christmas run this year? Thinking hard about your next super fun race day or training cycle does lessen the let down that comes after this year’s big accomplishment.
I’m not a big believer (anymore) that every moment of free time has to be put to good use. But… that doesn’t mean you don’t need a plan. While your fitness won’t suffer durning a taper your mental health might. It really is a dangerous combination of nothing to do and lots of nerves. It’s also worth noting how you feel in taper so that next time you can have an even better plan. How does a taper period make you feel? What’s your number one tip to get through it? Leave it in the comments below!