Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A fine line between tapering and training

Anyone who's ever dared to don a pair of running shoes has their own opinion about tapering.

To be fair, it is an important part of race-day preparation. Nobody wants to burn themselves out before they even get to the starting line, right?

However, the difference in techniques for scaling back cardio workload is enough to give a runner a headache. Some people train hard up until the last few days before their race. Some give themselves a week to recover. Others, as advised in this Runner's World article, take up to three weeks to taper their training for race day.

I'm still relatively new to long-distance running, so I won't even pretend to come off as an expert on tapering. The week before my lone marathon, I did a 9-mile training run at lord-knows-what pace in an attempt get used to the effects of Gu Energy Gel on my stomach. When I told this to a seasoned marathon runner, he flipped out on me to the point that I thought I had failed at life.

I've been known to over-practice when it comes to athletics. I get nervous about the race, I feel like I haven't trained hard enough and I start to panic about what my strategy should be. This nervousness entices me to log heavy training miles even when I shouldn't, as I reason that I'll at least have peace of mind and be able to rest easy the night before the race.

(side note: I slept a grand total of four hours the night before the marathon. I was less nervous about asking a girl out for high school homecoming that I was about running that race, and that's saying something.)

I wouldn't necessarily advocate tapering for a full three weeks leading up to race day. However, after reading a variety of articles about tapering techniques (here's a link to the search I ran on Runner's World), there are a few general strategies to be mindful of. I'm trying to incorporate these pointers into my routine this week, as I will be running a half marathon in my hometown of St. Cloud on Saturday (also the inspiration behind this post):

  • Stock up on protein, carbs and Vitamin C in the week leading up to race day. It is not the time to start dieting in order to lose a few pounds. Your body is going to need all the strength it can get.
  • If you're going to do longer runs during the last week or so before the race, do them at a relaxed pace compared to what your target pace is during the race. Shorter runs can be used for race-pace training, but interval training and other high-difficulty runs should be avoided. Remember, you're trying to let your body recover.
  • Rather than focusing on speed, focus on flexibility. Do longer stretch routines after short jogs and get your body feeling comfortable.
  • Focus on your mental preparation for the race rather than physical preparation. Figure out your pace, play out scenarios and how you'll deal with them on the race course (i.e. What if this starts to hurt? What if there's a head wind? What attire is weather-appropriate?) think about how you'll keep yourself calm and sticking to your plan.
  • Drink water, lots of it, in the days leading up to the race. Fairly obvious, but not something to forget about.
  • If you've been weightlifting as part of your training, stop doing it. It's only going to sap your muscles of energy needed for the race (a tough one for me to adhere to because I love weightlifting).

On that note, I'm going to head out for a light jog and get some good stretching in afterward. Hopefully I can calm my nerves a bit before race day.

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