By the time you reach race week, you’ve probably sacrificed weekends to train, been up at the crack of dawn on cold mornings, dug deep into your pain cave more than once, pushed your body to limits you never knew were possible, gone through tubs of Vaseline, made new friends, cried your eyes out (pain and happiness), your physio is your new best friend, and you have screamed like a baby in the shower from chafing in places you never knew could sting.
Taper smartly in race week so you don’t undo all your hard work. Your goal is to get to the start line feeling fresh, excited, motivated, healthy and ready to have fun and achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself. Overdoing it (or under doing it) now could sabotage your goals and leave you feeling flat, exhausted, sick, injured and demotivated on race day.
Make sure you get enough rest, prepare psychologically for one of the most significant experiences of your life and allow your body to recover from the intensity of training that has been building up over the last few weeks and months. This is not the week to kick back, relax and stop training completely but it is also NOT the time to play catch up on any runs you’ve missed.
My top tips for tapering for a race are as follows:
(Note: This is generally speaking and for recreational runners or weekend warriors – elite runners and very competitive athletes will have a slightly different looking taper week)
No more long runs
More long runs in race week will only fatigue you and place stress on an already tired body. This will make you more susceptible to getting sick or injured. Keep your runs short and fast this week – nothing more than 30-45 minutes at the most.
Don’t take too much rest
Your immune system can be thrown out of sync when the demands on your body suddenly decrease. Keep the momentum going – plan for 1 to 2 runs this week and an activation run the day before you race.
Include high intensity workouts
Maintain your intensity and don’t do longer runs very easy – this will still fatigue you. Focus on quicker, short runs with rest days in-between.
Stop the strength training
Exclude strength work the week before race day – stretching and pre-race massages, if you are used to having these before races, is advisable.
Focus on ensuring you get quality sleep consistently throughout the week.
Eat enough healthy food
Include enough unprocessed food in your diet and avoid sugary, salty or processed meals that contain very little nutrition. Make sure you have vegetables and unprocessed proteins most of the time and also continue with any vitamins and minerals you have been taking consistently throughout your training.
Have you decided on plan A and plan B yet? What is your race day plan? Have you set some milestone goals and considered your pacing? Write this down.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself crossing that finish line in your goal time. Spend some quiet time visualising your race from start to finish, choose positive self-talk you will use when you feel sore or negative, and decide now how you will dig yourself out of the pain cave. Watch some inspirational videos or movies with strong messages that resonate with you. My favourites are Men of Honour, The Blindside, Unbroken, Pay It Forward and 127 Hours.
Have you got a checklist of what you need to wear and pack out the night before the race? Have your bought enough nutrition that you have tried and tested to use during your run? What time will you wake up? Planning what you can control now will alleviate anxiety and stress on race morning.
Balance, love and laughter
Appreciate your family, your friends and your fan club. Without them, this would have been a tough journey. Spend time doing something other than running or talking about running with them this week and next week – this is good for the soul and will energise you during your taper, and make them feel appreciated.
Good luck – give it horns, never give up and push past the impossible!
Christine is a running coach and nutrition specialist based with Sole Buddies #LiveLife in Cape Town. She is also the co-anchor for the GerhardandChristineLiveLife podcast, and co-founder of For The Long Run, a social upliftment project and registered NPO in Fisantekraal. Read more about Sole Buddies here.