Marathon Training Taper Week Tips: Slowing Down & Trusting the Process

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It's been two months since I crossed the finish line of my first marathon, so I thought it was only appropriate to finally share my taper week tips with you all! And if you're wondering what's next in the running/fitness realm of my life, don't worry, there's a post coming on that soon. :)

The last 3-4 weeks of marathon training are called tapering. Essentially you start running less as you get closer to the marathon. Counterintuitive? Yes. 100% necessary? HECK yes.

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I was super nervous when I start tapering because it felt so wrong. I felt like I should be grinding even harder as I approached the race, but I had read enough horror stories of people who decided to neglect tapering and knew I had to power through it, even if it was mentally harder than the longest runs. After I hit 22 miles, my longest run of training, I was ready right that second to run the 26.2. I get such a high from those crazy long runs and from hitting new mileage each week, that I couldn’t imagine having to wait FOUR weeks to hit another new goal.

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But honestly, tapering did exactly what it was supposed to do. My body was worn out, more so than I could have ever imagined, from training. I was tired all day long, not matter how much sleep I got. My eyes drooped in class and I had to reach for a second cup of coffee every day without question. That’s how I knew tapering was just what I needed.

I didn’t get as antsy during tapering as I thought I would be, but then the last taper week hit. The last taper week of it’s advised to run 40% of the mileage you’ve been running during an average week of training. I had so much extra time on my hands during the last taper week that I had to really focus on other things – hanging out with friends, writing, reading, running errands, cooking, etc. because all I could think about was running, but all I could do was run less. The marathon was the last thing on my mind when I fell asleep and the first thing I thought about every morning. It was honestly the LONGEST week of my life, but it restored my body’s energy so well that I didn’t get in as much as a funk as I thought. I felt too energized and excited to be grumpy about how antsy I was.

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I know this taper week can be difficult for any marathon runner, so here are my top tips for a successful taper week:

  1. Take every precaution to not get sick: My biggest fear was coming this far and getting hit with some type of bug. How tragic would that be?! I suggest tapping into your inner germaphone during this week. I wiped down all of the handles and surfaces in my apartment (and continually did that almost every day), I washed my hands an insane amount of times (my hands were literally so dry… but #worthit), I drank more water than I think I ever have (I never separated from my Healthy Human water bottle), I tried to keep my stress low (meditation, relaxing, etc.), I got at least 8 hours of sleep each night and I, as always, ate super healthy.

  2. Fuel your body: If you’re training for a marathon, or have in the past, you know how ravenous you are like ALL the dang time. Seriously, there were days I would get so annoyed because I had to make meal/snack every hour!!! Even if its seems crazy that you can be that hungry, listen to those cues, even when you start running less. Even though your mileage is decreasing, your energy-intake shouldn’t change that much! Your body is still recovering from the insane amount of mileage you covered during training, so make sure to keep fueling it with healthy foods and nutrient-dense meals. You want to make sure your body is energized come race day, and you can’t run on empty fumes.

  3. Baby your body and don’t push it: It’s so easy during tapering to think “maybe I should just push it a little more to make sure my body doesn’t lose all of its ability to run far and fast.” STOP RIGHT THERE. This last week of tapering is meant to ensure that your body is rested, your muscles are fully recovered from all of the miles you logged previously and that you won’t feel fatigued on the day of the race. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to only be running between 3 and 5 miles, but trust in your body and trust the hard work you put in. Another part of babying your body comes in the form of doing all that you can to stay injury free. If I even felt the tiniest pain I would ice, I rolled and stretched every morning and night and I applied “muscle sooth” essential oils.

  4. Don’t second guess and trust your training: This is HUGE. It’s so easy to go into this last week and almost “forget” how much hard work and dedication you put into training. Did I do enough? I haven’t run 20,21,22 miles (depending on how high of a mileage you worked up to) in three/four weeks… can I still do it? What if my body forgot what that long of a run is like? Have I been eating what will fuel my body the best? Have I been drinking enough water? OMG does my knee hurt???? Try to stop these questions from making you get in a negative place. As I stated above, you have to TRUST your body and your training. You put 5+ months of hard work in and your body isn’t going to just forget that in one week. Tapering is just as crucial of a part of training as your longest run was. Try to push these anxious thoughts out and replace them with positivity – positive thoughts of how hard you’ve worked, positive thoughts of how able your body is, and of course, positive thoughts of crossing the finish line!

  5. Let yourself feel fear, nerves and anxiousness: And although it’s important to stay positive, it’s okay to feel scared and anxious. But that feeling of fear proves that you’re doing something out of your comfort zone, something worthwhile, something BIG, something that matters deeply to you. Feel those feelings, but don’t let them consume you or make you second guess like I was just talking about. Use these emotions to fuel you. Use them to remind yourself of WHY you’re running the marathon and why running is so important to you.

  6. Try to not have too much work to do that week: I was going to suggest trying to focus on other things, but since I know that’s nearly impossible, make space in your life to think and daydream about the marathon. This may be unrealistic for some people depending on their job or life, but I strategically made sure not to have too much homework, projects, blog-work, etc. to do that week. I knew I would be antsy and wouldn’t be able to concentrate well. This gave me more time to do what would help calm me down the most and distract myself with things like yoga, walks, podcasts and reading that didn’t take too much brain-power.

  7. Get excited: And most importantly get JAZZED about what you’re about to do! Feel proud of yourself for all of your hard work and picture yourself crossing that finish line over and over again. During this week I woke up with the hugest smile on my face every day because I was just so excited and race day felt better than Christmas and my birthday combined.

Running a marathon is a huge deal. If you’ve ran more marathons than you can even count or if you’re just starting to toy with the idea of running your first one, I applaud you. 26.2 miles is amazing and a little crazy all at once and if you are that person with just the slightest idea that you may want to experience that type of crazy, I encourage you full heartedly to take the leap. You don’t know what your body is capable of until you push all doubts aside and just get out there and do it.

XO nat

Related: Tapering Begins: Cutting Back Mileage, Being Patient and Trust My Body, Conquering 26.2: An Inside Look at my First Marathon Experience