[caption id="attachment_1430" align="alignleft" width="275" caption="Which road will your taper take you on?"][/caption] This is the word that most endurance athletes fear.  Why?  We fear it because of the idea that we are no longer going to be training 15 to 20 hours per week and our bodies will be craving those workouts.  We fear the word taper because the days of consuming 4,000 calories are over and having to watch what we eat even closer than we already do is about to kick in.  We fear tapering because it is the new unknown. When we first started training the unknown was how far can I go on the bike, or on the run, or in the water.  Then it became how fast can I go those distances but it was always about pushing to get to that next level.  It fit into our Type A personalities perfectly.  Throughout training we would have pull back days or weeks to allow our bodies to recover and recovery means adding speed and that works for us. Now, the taper week or weeks comes and what are we to do with ourselves?  We look at our training schedule and add up the hours and we are going from 15 hours to 5 hours and our minds begin to race.  What do I do with all that time?  Maybe instead of a 1,000 yard swim I will do 1,500.  The training schedule shows a 4 miles Zone 2 run but I will push it to a 10k and that won't hurt me, right?  Our minds race because we crave the miles just like a craving for chocolate.  We have become addicted to training and now we are going cold turkey.
"Runners develop not only a physical but also a psychological dependency on running," says Troy Smurawa, M.D., a 2:46 marathoner and physician at Akron Children's Hospital Sports Medicine Center. "So when runners take time off, they go through withdrawal."
The problem is that tapering is necessary.  It is a necessary evil in that it allows us to have our bodies truly recover from all the work we have put in for the months of training.  We have pounded our bodies to a pulp and tapering will allow all the muscle fibers to recuperate and the best part is it allows us to get faster. Wikipedia says the following of tapering: Tapering, in the context of sports, refers to the practice of reducing, or tapering off, exercise in the days just before an important competition.[1] Tapering is customary in many endurance sports, such as the marathonathletics and swimming. For many athletes, a significant period of tapering is essential for optimal performance. The tapering period frequently lasts as much as a week or more. As a general rule of thumb, longer endurance events are generally preceded by longer tapering periods, with the curious exception of particularly long endurance competitions, such asultramarathons and multiday races. In swimming the opposite is true; distance swimmers will often taper for only a week or less, while sprinters (50 m-200 m) taper for up to 3 weeks.[citation needed] [caption id="attachment_1431" align="alignright" width="264" caption="Tapering properly will allow you to Finish Strong"][/caption] Typically, tapering for relatively short endurance events takes as little as a week or less, but tapering for an event like the marathon takes at least two or three weeks. Bob Cooper, a veteran marathoner and contributing editor for Runner's World, points to medical studies as evidence that the final three weeks of any marathon-training program are the most critical stage of training; a review of fifty studies on tapering indicates that optimal levels of muscle glycogenenzymesantioxidants, and hormones, which are significantly depleted by intense endurance training, are achieved during a taper. Tapering may also be done for submaximal exercises.[2] Why am I posting about this today?  Today marks the fact that I am 13 days away from 70.3 Oceanside.  On my schedule today is a 1,000 yard swim, which by the time you read this I will have already completed.  I read the schedule and thought it will take me 15 minutes to drive to the pool, 15 minutes to swim 1,000 yards and 15 minutes to drive home.  Can I just do this in my bathtub and save the miles on my car?  There are other slightly longer sessions on the schedule but nothing like a 4 hour ride that I have recently put up.  Nothing like a 3,500 yard swim that was done just last Monday.  There is not a run in the 2 hour range anymore. I have fears.  I am fearful that my body will be craving that pounding and I won't know what to do.  I am fearful about packing on pounds during this two week period.  I am fearful of the mind games that I will be playing with myself as sitting on the couch doing nothing is not for me.


Let's address some of these fears separately, as I read an article in Runner's World and it does help to know the answers to the questions before you take the test: Trap: Craving Carbs Solution: During your taper, slightly modify the carbohydrate-based diet you've maintained throughout your marathon training. "Simply emphasize the carbs already in your diet," says Nancy Clark, R.D., a sports nutritionist in Boston. "For example, instead of having chicken with rice, have rice with chicken." Clark recommends taking in 55 to 65 percent of your calories from carbohydrates, 10 to 15 percent from protein, and 20 to 30 percent from fat. Ensure the proteins are low in fat, such as chicken, fish, lean meats, beans, and legumes. My thoughts: This is not the problem for me.  The problem is controlling the calories.  Going from a metabolic rest burn of 2,000 calories plus a 2,000 calorie burning day of workouts means I can consume 4,000 calories in a day and not have a weight issue.  I have made quite a few changes to my diet in the past three months and now I have to adjust even further to account for calories I am not burning. ---------- Trap: The Impulse to Cram Solution: "Rational thinking helps," says Hays. Realize that extra mileage and harder training at this point will hurt your marathon, not help it. Research has shown that those who taper properly perform better than those who train right up until race day. To convince yourself that you've done all the work necessary to run a good race, review your training log thoroughly, noting all the weeks of high mileage, long runs, and tough workouts. And no matter how short and easy your runs get during the taper, keep recording your workouts in your log to reinforce the feeling that you are studiously sticking to the plan. My Thoughts: This is a great idea.  This will allow me to understand all the work I have put in and that tapering is a reward for all those hard workout and that I need to embrace and enjoy the miles that I am putting in during taper week and not regret them because they aren't the longer distances. ---------- Trap: That Sinking Feeling Solution: Take a short-term approach. "You only have to get through the rest of the taper," says Hays. Do a little low-impact and low-intensity cross-training--like pool running--to generate the good feelings you normally get from running. Also, use your downtime to focus on other things that bring pleasure to your life, such as listening to music, cooking, and being with family and friends. And rent some funny movies or read a few joke books to lighten your mood. My Thoughts: This is another great idea.  As you all know laughing and smiling is a huge part of my life, but I am an intense competitor as well.  I can get that 1,000 mile stare and be so focused on my event that nothing else matters.  Fortunately for me I do have a passion that is just as strong as my endurance sport passion and that is cooking.  I would expect to see quite a bit of cooking posts over the next two weeks. ---------- Trap: Weight Gain Solution: Realize that the extra "water weight" will be beneficial during the marathon. It will actually help keep you better hydrated on race day, when it will be released as the glycogen is burned. But you can also do a few practical things to help you cope with this temporary weight gain. Don't weigh yourself during the three-week taper period. And if the feeling of tighter-than-normal clothes causes you anxiety, wear clothes with more forgiving waistbands and drawstrings. My thoughts: Hogwash.  I have a racing weight that I want to be at and I am not going to compromise that by wearing bigger pants.  This makes no sense to me.  I am disciplined and I will apply that to my caloric intake over the next two weeks and not compromise my mind further.  If I am worried that I am gaining weight then that will not help me during taper and will cause more harm than good. ---------- One year of training comes down to two weeks of tapering.  I am mentally prepared.  I am physically prepared.  I have put in the work and know that when that gun goes off all my hard work will be rewarded.  

How do you deal with taper madness?  Do you have tips and tricks that you can share?

Jason Bahamundi

About the Author:

I grew up in New York and lived there for 34 years until I got divorced and moved 1600 miles to my new home in Texas.  I love New York and miss it but that does not mean that Texas hasn’t been great to me because it has.  It was here that I discovered endurance sports and specifically the sport of triathlon.  Triathlon has given me new life through all the challenges it presents.  I no longer look at life the same way and I can say that is in part due to my endeavor into this sport.

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