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What Happens When You Taper

Why You Feel Terrible When You Taper

It’s marathon taper time and you’re feeling cranky, tired, and sore.

You’re running less so how is that possible? What the heck is going on?

We call this marathon “taper tantrums” and they aren’t unlike the temper tantrums we’re used to as mother runners. It’s because your body is tired and, well, hungry in a way (aka depleted) and needs rest and restoration (just like when your kids are melting down because they need a nap or a sandwich.) The marathon taper can be, well, kinda scary. Because all of a sudden you get these aches and pains, you feel rundown and sick, you’re lethargic, and many people panic that the lack of running will hurt them on race day. ⁠

To ease some of your worries, I consulted some experts and want to give you a little background on the marathon taper and why this happens: When you start tapering, your body is depleted. So, cutting back on mileage helps your body (muscles, tendons, glycogen levels, hormones, enzymes, immune system) recover and build itself back up. ⁠However, during this process, you may experience some discomforts.

Here is why:

You have aches and pains.

As your tissues repair, some muscle twitches and cramps can occur explaining some of the pains you feel. Also, since you’re so focused on how you’ll feel race day, you’re more likely to notice these discomforts. ⁠

⁠You’re tired.

During training, your body was in overdrive, producing energizing endorphins and adrenaline. Now that you’re not running as hard, your body isn’t producing these so you feel more tired. But guess what? If you feel lethargic several days ahead of the race, that’s a good sign the taper is working. By race day, you should feel a boost in energy. ⁠If you don’t feel extra tired, don’t worry. The taper is still working.

You get sick.

Taper time follows peak week where your immune system is suppressed by the adrenaline required to keep you moving. Now your immune system is kicked into overdrive and it’s common to get sick. ⁠Don’t stress. Just keep focusing on resting and recovering.

Remember, the taper is your friend and it’s here to help your body get ready to crush it on race day.

Here is a marathon taper checklist to get you through:

Rest.

No workout you do now will help you on race day. You need to let your body build itself back up so that you have the energy and strength to push hard on race day. Embrace the recovery. You earned it.

Get a massage.

A massage a few days ahead of the race will please any unhappy muscles and lessen your chance of cramping.

Do gentle stretching daily.

Take a few minutes every day ⁠to loosen your muscles and prep them for going the distances with some light stretching and foam rolling.

Take Epsom salt baths⁠.

Put a couple cups of Epsom salts in the bath and soak for 20 minutes. This helps relax and rejuvenate muscles by decreasing inflammation.

Drink lots of water and electrolytes⁠.

Now is the time to start focusing on your hydration so you’re ready to push through that wall.

Avoid fibrous foods and stock up on carbs.

About three days ahead of the race, start avoiding anything with fiber including vegetables. Gradually start increasing your carbohydrate intake about 25 percent each day.

Take your vitamins.

Some people like to take some extra vitamin C and D ahead of the race. I drink this echinacea  and elderberry tea to give me an immunity boost.

Visualize yourself nailing the race.

Go through race day in your head from the moment you get up to getting to the start line, racing, finishing, and then celebrating. Imagine how you will feel (hint: you feel great!) and work through any race day logistics and kinks (e.g. do you have the proper clothing or nutrition with you or how will you get back to your hotel).

Read some motivational books.

I love Kara Goucher’s Strong and am currently reading Deena Kastor’s Let Your Mind Run ahead of my race to get me excited and in the right frame of mind.

Review your training.

Go through your training logs or Strava, or whatever you use, and review all the hard work you’ve put in for this day. Think of the times you had to arrange for babysitters or get up extra early. You’re ready. Don’t let the taper make you doubt your readiness.

Get pumped.

This is your TIME TO SHINE but also a celebration of months of hard work, and mental and physical toughness.

Fly, mama, fly!

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