Taper Time!

Tapering towards a big race is a funny old thing. With the longest marathon training run usually scheduled for 3 weeks prior to the big day, it would be easy to think that what follows that last huge training effort is 3 weeks of taking it easy, lazing around and being happy about it, yet that is not always strictly true. Over the course of 12 weeks or so of intense effort and ever-increasing long runs, it’s certainly fair to say that the idea of a Sunday lie-in or a night off training sounds very appealing (especially when the rain is hammering down and the wind threatens to blow us off the face of the planet as has so often been the case this winter) but when the intensity of our workouts decreases, the novelty soon wears off and the Taper Demons creep in.

Taper Demons. If you’ve ever trained for a distance/endurance event then you know what I mean. When the Taper Demons arrive, every twinge is a race-ending injury, every sneeze is a hideous bug waiting to take hold and everyone we know begins to avoid us as we experience “minor mood swings”!

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But the taper is a crucial part of the process, even if it does send an otherwise sane person completely round the bend. After putting our bodies through weeks of hard work, we have to take the time to rest, recover and rebuild our energy stores so we can hit the start line like a coiled spring ready to smash it.

After my final 20 mile training run last Sunday, I’m now a week into my taper. In all honesty I had expected to really need an easy week as after my previous 20 mile run my legs needed most of the week to recover – I distinctly remember dragging my weary limbs around my Tuesday night easy run (despite a recovery jog on the Monday) and having a hard time with Metafit, so much so that I was wondering if I would have my own legs back ready for the following weekend’s training. But not this time. This time I made a quite remarkable recovery. My legs felt good on my recovery jog and when I headed out for my 6 mile run (which I had pencilled in as optionally an “easy” run) I was feeling so strong that I stormed around over a minute faster than I normally complete that route – even faster than the previous week when I was feeling reasonably fresh after “just” 16 miles. Apparently, I am now a machine! Already I feel re-energised and actually found it quite tricky to keep the pace down on my Saturday easy run as my legs wanted to go faster. I hope this remains the case and I get to Paris feeling just as strong and energised after a good taper.

I honestly don’t know why I recovered so well this time, but if it’s a case of everything coming together at the right time, then that can only be a good thing. In fact, overall the first week of my taper has gone well and the Taper Demons have not arrived. Yet.

For the first week of my taper, my training schedule was:

Monday – recovery jog
Tuesday – 6 miles (easy?)
Wednesday – swim/sauna
Thursday – coaching running club
Friday – Metafit
Saturday – 40 mins easy
Sunday – 14 miles

The key is to maintain the frequency of the workouts, but to drop back the mileage and/or intensity.

One of the best parts of the week was starting the new block of running club on Thursday night. Once more there was a huge turnout, especially for the Zero to 5k group. This was really encouraging as the weather had taken a turn for the worse and just as quickly as it had arrived, Spring had been chased off by a cold snap which has extended into the weekend. After several days of wearing much more Spring-like running kit (lighter top layers, cropped tights and even an appearance by my shorts!) it was back to winter kit and a waterproof as it looked like it might rain. There was a definite chill in the air but that didn’t put anyone off and as Steve worked with the new runners, I took the 10k group for a run. This time round I have a mixture of those stepping up from 5k and those repeating the block in order to improve their 10k time and I will be interested to see the difference this makes to their running by the end of the block.

So by the time my Sunday run came around, I felt good after the first week of my taper. Although a bit chilly (and windy – apparently Sundays are just ALWAYS going to be windy!) it was a beautiful sunny morning as I headed out for my 14 miles. After 20 miles last week, 14 just seemed so manageable and I had a lovely time on one of my favourite routes – I even saw my first lambs of the season. I finished the run feeling strong (and somewhat surprised at how quick it seemed as it was an hour less running than last week) with plenty of energy left to enjoy the afternoon. I’ve become used to spending Sunday afternoons with a completely addled brain so it’s refreshing to be able to think straight!

From here, I have no runs longer than 10k until race day itself and more easy paced runs, so if the Taper Demons are going to make themselves known, it’s going to be sometime soon. If my next post is lots of paranoid babbling about seemingly insignificant race details, you’ll know those Taper Demons have taken hold. Please don’t hold it against me!

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Are you tapering for a spring marathon? How are you feeling?
Have you ever experienced the Taper Demons?

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13 thoughts on “Taper Time!

  1. Glad you’ve had such a good week, I hope those taper demons stay away! I haven’t seen any lambs yet, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled!

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    • Yes, short tapers are ok but marathon tapers tend to be about 3 weeks. I think it’s the drop in endorphins and any anxieties about running a distance that hasn’t been covered in training that can lead to the demons setting in. Hopefully the next 2 weeks will be ok and I’m getting really excited about going to Paris now!

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  2. I’ve only tapered once for a race, and that was my half marathon. Do Taper Demons only affect full marathon training? Or are they a result of not trusting the training? I was elated with my half training programme and had no panic, nightmares or issues leading to my race, and a lot of that had to do with trusting my training programme. With that said, I’m in the first of three back-down weeks for my programme, an easier week is welcomed 🙂

    We’ve had lambs up in southern Aberdeenshire for about 3 weeks now! They’re beyond the tiny and cute stage…

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    • Yeah, Taper Demons tend to be a full marathon thing. My theory is that the body has become accustomed to a high training load and while the easier weeks are welcome, the drop in endorphins is not. Also, even though we totally trust the training we have done, the full marathon is the only race distance where runners won’t have tackled the full distance in training, leaving room for some doubts. At the moment I feel fairly relaxed as I’m still busy with work. Next week might be different!

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      • Yes, training by “time on feet” rather than miles does alter things. I usually go by mileage and for a half would ideally (I stress “ideally”) have run 14 or 15 miles in training. That said, I have run a half with a longest run of 10-11 miles. I suppose it really depends on what works best for each individual to help them reach their goals.

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  3. Aaah… Those taper demons! I know them well. I am not running a Marathon this year, I’m not sure yet if I’m happy or sad about that. But, my husband is doing London on 13th so his taper starts now and I’m SCARED!!! Good luck in Paris, I hope you smash it whilst enjoying it x

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  4. You have my sympathies. I’m terrible at the traditional taper as well. Over the years I’ve discovered that the best strategy for me is to only curb the distance of my runs during the taper – I keep the same frequency and intensity. Not only does that keep me sane, if I cut out runs or go too easy, I actually feel very flat come race day. Best of luck with it and the race – Paris must be such a lovely marathon – perhaps I’ll make it my spring marathon next year. 😀

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    • I definitely recommend Paris. It was the first marathon I did back in 2010 and I’ve been desperate to go back ever since.
      The taper is going ok so far, but I’m not doing so well with my easy runs as my legs want a bit of pace. Fortunately, they’re not all easy runs so my legs should still remember how to move. Also, we have the 5k Breakfast Run the day before the marathon and I’m accustomed to 3-4 miles easy the day before my long runs anyway.

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