You’ve done all the training, put in so much effort, now the only thing left to do is the taper. Tapering occurs before a race and involves reducing the volume and intensity of training to allow your body to absorb the work you have put in and recharge to be fresh and ready to fly on race day. Tapering also involves what many find to be the biggest mental test of their training. Often labeled the “taper crazies” or “taper tantrum” this is the time where doubt, fear, irritability, excitement, and uncertainty can creep in. It’s the place where athletes must train their mind and practice self-belief in the training that has been done and their ability to crush their race. Conquering the taper “crazies” is possible with a lot of love, grace, and the ability to call BS on the unhelpful thoughts that are trying to erode your self-confidence.
Tapering requires you to cut back on your training load which means your daily routine, training stimulus, and exercise-induced endorphins can take a hit. It’s supposed to be a time of rest and recovery but often feels more like a time of chaos and weird niggles that you didn’t have when you were training more. For many people, the disruption to their daily rhythm results in more free time and for some (raises hand) free time leads to hanging out in your mind with the self-doubt monster. That self-doubt monster starts looking at your goals for the race and begins trying to dismantle them one-by-one. “You’ve never run that far before, are you sure you can do it? You’re just sitting around right now, losing fitness” and the lies continue to become more creative and catastrophic. Now cue the emotional rollercoaster that comes from the complexity of half believing the lies while half trusting your training while also trying to manage all the weird things that your body is physically doing with the extra rest. With so many variables it’s no wonder that the result is often called the taper “crazies”. Thankfully, there are some things you can try that can help your mind and emotions get off the rollercoaster.
Do’s And Dont’s of Managing the Taper “Crazies”
DON’T Do nothing or do everything. Tapering doesn’t mean spending all day on your couch. It’s important both physically and mentally to continue to get a training stimulus. On the opposite end of the spectrum, now is not the time to let fear drive you to do your longest training run/bike/swim that you’ve ever done “just to be sure” you’re ready for the race. Fear about losing fitness can often lead us to try to train harder or add cross-training to feel like we are not losing the work we put in over the months. Instead of going to the gym to pound away on cardio equipment that you haven’t used in three years, practice trusting the process and following your scaled back training plan.
DO Embrace the rest but continue training. A way to embrace scaling back while still training is continuing your normal routine. Wake up like you usually would, get dressed for your workout, go through your warm-up, shortened workout, then cool down. Keeping your routine helps to lessen anxiety by maintaining a consistent structure despite your workout being shorter. With that extra time, try to spend it doing something that celebrates and enhances the rest you’ve earned after months of training! Maybe use it to go grab coffee from the coffee shop on the way to work or to read a new book.
DON’T Change what you’re eating. Now is not the time to cut calories or try the pre race meal that you heard the winner of the New York City Marathon ate the morning of the race. You don’t need to lose weight or try to “dial-in” your nutrition and please, please do not start weighing yourself daily to make sure you’re at “race weight.” Actually, while you have extra time go ahead and throw away that scale. When it comes to eating during the taper you just need to enjoy your food and continue doing what has been working for your training.
DO Eat enough. Continue to eat like you normally do, focusing on the joy that is food and eating enough! Remind yourself that what you have been doing has allowed you to get to this point so there is no reason to change it now. If you want to give yourself a chance on race day then you need to go to the line fully fueled.
DON’T Snap at your friends and family. I’ve been running more days than not for the past 15 years and there is something to be said about the daily hit of endorphins. My friends used to joke that a morning run was the difference between “Happy Haleigh” and “Hostile Haleigh.” It’s a funny joke but lack of endorphins coupled with self-doubt and anxiety can lead to snapping at those we care about over silly things that probably wouldn’t usually bother us. Try to remember that irritability is normal and is usually the product of anxiety. Take a couple of deep breaths before responding when you feel like snapping.
DO Surround yourself with support. This is the time to lean heavily on your friends and family to talk about your fears, excitement, and all the other things you are feeling leading up to race day. Surround yourself with people that love you, believe in you, and that create a positive environment. Ask them to hold you accountable for resting and be a listening ear for doubt. During a time where it might be harder to believe in yourself, it is essential to have people in your life that can speak that belief over you.
DON’T Obsess over things that are uncontrollable like the weather. It’s tempting during the taper to try to control things that you have no control over like the weather. I’ve seen over and over athletes erode their race day confidence because they have seen an undesirable forecast prediction for race day only to show up and the weather be totally different. Instead of checking the forecast for race day every few hours, tell yourself that you can check it once each day and twice the day before the race.
DO Focus on the things that are in your control. Our brains like to focus on things that are uncontrollable because they are the most anxiety-inducing. We want stability and predictability so we try to control the uncontrollables only to experience more anxiety as our efforts fail. Instead, try focusing on the things that you can control like getting your gear ready, looking at your training log to draw confidence by seeing the work you’ve done, and using a mantra. Coming up with a powerful mantra that you can repeat when you feel anxious such as, “Trust the process” or “Believe” can help ease anxiety and reinforce positive thinking.
DON’T Change your race plan, then change it again and again. Make a plan and believe in it! It’s tempting during the taper to doubt your plan and to change it over and over in an attempt to create the “perfect” plan that will get you the results you desire. However, the changing of the plan over and over actually creates self-doubt, stress, and increases the chance that you will overlook something.
DO Use imagery to practice your race plan. A better use of your time instead of changing your race plan is using imagery to execute your plan in your mind. Practicing executing your plan gives you the confidence come race day that you are capable of achieving your goals. Get as detailed as you want with the imagery. Study the course map, the elevation, turns, terrain then close your eyes and see yourself completing it. You can also practice using mantras at the parts you think will be tough or how you will recover if you fall or something goes off-plan.
DON’T Attach your worth to your race result. One of the main reasons I see people become overly anxious during the taper is because they have unintentionally connected their self-worth to their race day result. Instead of being a joyous occasion, the race becomes a test of self-worth, love, and acceptance. That is an incredible pressure to carry into race day. Practice reminding yourself that you are more than a result. Think about the people that love you and how they will still love you regardless of the outcome. Remind yourself that you can race out of who you are and that results can’t add to or subtract from the beauty and worth that is you.
DO Get excited! Sometimes while preparing for races we forget to be excited that we get to do this! Think about the race as a celebration of the last few months of training and growth. I encourage people to think about how their training has grown them as a person, not just an athlete. Maybe it has cultivated more discipline or you’ve gained new friendships. Use the downtime to be intentionally grateful for the training and allow that gratitude to fuel feelings and thoughts of excitement for the race day celebration.
The taper can be mentally tough but know that you are not alone in your experience. Try to extend grace, practice self-belief, and not overthink things. Lean on your support system, don’t do anything too crazy, and remind yourself that you are loved no matter what. Following these do’s and don’ts will help you with managing the taper “crazies.”