I have been thinking a lot about the marathon taper lately, since I’m entering the tapering phase of my latest marathon training cycle. The taper is the last 2 or 3 weeks of training when the mileage decreases and you begin to rest your body and store fuel and energy for the marathon to come.
My Marathon Taper Issue
On the surface, the marathon taper sounds like such a good thing. After racking up the miles and finding time the energy to do 40+ miles of running a week, suddenly your mileage is ‘only’ 20 miles.
And yet, I always find myself struggling during the marathon taper. It took me several years and many marathon training cycles to figure out why.
The biggest reason I struggle with the taper is my mindset. I start thinking about runs as being ‘only 8 miles’ or ‘only 10 miles.’
While those runs may be shorter than the ones I had been doing, 8 or 10 miles is still a really long way. In my head, I’m mentally prepared for an easy run and then I’m shocked when it’s still 8 miles.
Running 8 miles is never going to easy, even when I am physically prepared for a marathon.
I’m getting better about how I think about relatively shorter runs during the taper. I consciously try to avoid thinking about them as ‘only’ anything. I still catch myself doing it. Unfortunately, it is usually after the fact, miles into a run that is feeling way harder than I think it should.
Your Possible Taper Side Effects
I know I’m not the only one who can struggle with the taper. Many marathoners expect the taper to be easy, but it can do strange things to you, both physically and mentally.
The run down of possible taper side effects feels a little bit like the reading of the possible side effects of a TV drug ad. However, I can’t talk fast enough to make that happen.
You may go stir crazy
Running shorter distances means you have more free time. This can be a strange new sensation after adjusting your weekends to make room for long runs that take hours. The extra time can make you feel a little itchy.
What do normal people do on Saturday morning anyway, if they when they don’t have to do a long run?
Minimize it: Spend time with friends or family, or catch up on your reading or Netflix queue.
Stress and over thinking
Am I eating right? Fueling right? Drinking enough water? Drinking too much beer? Walking too much? Is that guy coughing on the bus next to me going to get me sick?
Minimize it: Trust in your training and preparation and find ways to distract yourself.
Runs feeling way harder than they should
This is the biggest one for me. I start thinking about runs being ‘only’ 5 miles. But just because a run is shorter than ones you’ve done before doesn’t mean those runs will be easy.
Minimize it: A run is never ‘only’ anything. Focus on each run and each mile and prepare for them mentally and physically in the same way you did when your mileage was increasing.
You may get the sniffles
Colds, or just a case of the sniffles, commonly arrive during the taper. You have put your body through a lot in the previous months.
Minimize it: Chill, drink a ton of water, and relax as best you can. Let your body rest and allow it to recover. Stressing out isn’t going to help you heal.
Aches and pain may come out of nowhere
These are often phantom pains, caused by over thinking and stress. When you spend all of your waking hours thinking and obsessing about your body and keeping it healthy, you will notice things for the first time. Or the cumulative impact of the training can cause actual injuries. In either case, rest is in order.
Minimize it: Just like with the sniffles, chill as best you can and let your body rest.
You may get really cranky
Many runners use running as a stress reliever. So during the marathon taper, you have the very bad combination of increased stress, increased over thinking, and the removal of a big source of stress relief.
Minimize it: Apologize in advance to your friends, family, and co-workers and try not to do anything too rash.