Why do many runners struggle with the tapering period in marathon training?

noun_670402_ccHere’s a question that a coaching client of mine recently asked. I thought it would be perfect to share here on the blog.

Why do I look forward to the taper when I’m getting close to it, but once I have entered the taper I worry that I didn’t get enough done during my training? -Maryann

Here’s my answer . . .

The Tapering Period

If you ask just about any marathoner what the hardest part of training was, after mentioning the long runs, they just might say “the taper.” Tapering refers to reducing your training load for a period of time leading up to your race.

Research shows that a period of rest before racing actually increases the athlete’s level of fitness and can boost their performance by 3%.

“Tapering” was a term coined in 1947 by two coaches of the Australian Olympic Swim Team. Coach Forbes Carlile and physiology professor Frank Cotton found that their athletes performed better when their training was eased up three weeks before the race.

Many years later it was found that the same holds true for distance runners. Various coaches and training plans prescribe tapers of different weeks ranging from 1-4 weeks.

During marathon training the body may have been depleted of its enzyme, glycogen, and hormonal stores. Tapering allows for replenishing these reserves and encourages the repairing of muscle tissue to give that natural resilience back. Owen Anderson, Ph.D., editor of Running Research News, says,

“Scientific evidence suggests that temporary training reductions bolster leg muscle power, reduce lactic acid production, and carve precious minutes off race times. In contrast, hard workouts just before a race can produce nagging injuries and deplete leg muscles of their key fuel for running–glycogen.”

You’re definitely not alone in struggling with the taper Maryann.  Most of us have a built in barometer in our heads that feels like we’re making progress on when we’re building toward something (whether it be long runs, mileage, etc). 

The taper can really mess with self-confidence because suddenly you’re asked to do less, to take it a bit easier while your mind is saying, “hey, I’ve got a big event coming up.” 

Just acknowledging that this anxiety is going on is part of the battle.  Then you can be aware of those anxious thoughts or even little aches and pains that creep in physically. 

The taper can be doubly hard when you feel like you didn’t have an ideal training cycle and maybe didn’t do enough. When you find anxiety gnawing at your mind that you’re not doing enough just replace it with a positive truth, “my body is resting and getting stronger during this taper so that I have a great marathon.” 

Be present during the workouts you do have so you can fulfill the true purpose of them.  And if you find yourself with extra time and energy try to fill it with something else productive or fun like organizing a closet, reading a book, sleeping in a little longer, soaking in a hot bath, going on an easy bike ride for fun, etc.

Type A runners who have to taper be like,


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