Taper time, baby!

Is there a weirder time in training than the taper, the days before a race in which you dramatically cut back on mileage and intensity to give your muscles a chance to rest? You spend months amping up, getting your body to a place where it truly feels wrong not to run or cross-train. Then, you do a complete about-face. Just when you have the most nervous energy, the name of the game becomes chilling out.

Runner’s World calls the fits of nerves and anxiety that besiege even normally sane runners (not saying I’m ever one of these) “taper tantrums,” and offers some tips for coping here.

Here are some of my own tips for not going nuts during (and maybe even enjoying) a taper.

Practice positive visualization. More on this later in the week. for now: I like to use a tip I read in some running book about a million years ago that calls for runners to visualize a section of the race every day before race day. So today, I’ll be thinking about the first three miles, tomorrow, six through nine, and so on.

Memorize the course map. This is a tip from Olympic marathoner Keith Brantly, who I interviewed for the Finish Line, a series I wrote before Gainesville’s Five Points of Life Marathon. “Get the course map,” Brantly said. “Put it up on your fridge. Make it the screen saver on your computer. Imagine how great you’re going to feel at certain points. Let it become part of your daily life, and you’re kind of rehearsing the marathon every day.”

Stretch. I have to force myself to make time for this. Luckily, this week, time is all I’ve got (at least when it comes to time I’d usually spend training). For me, this usually means yoga, as the poses seem to loosen my hip muscles and generally relax me. Check out some yoga-for-runners tips here. I especially like the pigeon pose for stretching your hips and glutes. I also like stretching with a foam roller. I was skeptical about this when my physical therapist first recommended it. But it’s truly amazing, and is a great way to stretch/do self-massage for slackers. Check out a few ideas for how to use a foam roller here. A lot of gyms have them, or you can buy one for about $15 from Sports Authority.

Don’t feel like you’re slacking. Brantly suggests repeating the following: “Rest is training. Rest is training.”

Besides obsessively checking race-day weather forecasts, I’ve actually been handling this taper pretty well. After my long run on Saturday, I enjoyed pizza with some good buddies, then plopped myself on my good buddies’ couch, where I spent a few hours doing nothing but eating chocolate and watching movies. I didn’t do anything yesterday, and I’m planning on just an easy swim today. Later this week, I might even take a yoga class.

Got some tips for how to make the most out of taper week? Post ’em below!

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