Getting Through Taper Week Without Tantrums

Taper week can do some crazy things to runners.  Some people feel nervous and anxious about the big day.  Without as much running scheduled to ease the mind, nerves can get a bit frazzled.  We worry about losing fitness and gaining weight, we obsessively stalk the weather forecast, and we stress about making sure every last detail is taken care of.

We get the taper tantrums.

As a running coach for Runners Connect, I get a lot of questions about taper week.  Every individual responds to taper a little differently, but there are some basic rules that may help the time go by a little easier, without losing your mind.

What should you eat?  How do you carbo load?

This is one of the questions I get the most.  As a general rule, you do not want to change things up too much in the week before your race because it is not enough time for your body to adjust.  Taper week is not the time to experiment with a radical new diet or stuff yourself with pasta.  You should eat a normal, healthful diet of whole foods, especially plants, just like you should all year round.

Because you are running less during this week, you are not exhausting your muscles’ glycogen stores so they will stay full from a plant-rich diet.

If you are data-driven and need some actual numbers, Runners Connect recommends that you eat 3-5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight during taper.

Every morning, I eat the exact same thing: 2 slices of my homemade whole wheat sourdough bread, lightly slathered with almond butter and jam.  Making homemade bread is something that I just love to do and it’s a great way to fill some restless time during taper that I normally would have spent running.

Fresh loaves of whole wheat sourdough

But I’m careful not to go overboard with the bread.  The main sources of my carbs this week are starches (potatoes, sweet potatoes, and bananas), fruits and veggies, legumes, and whole, unprocessed grains.  The day before the race, I’ll choose those with a little less fiber for easy digestion, making sure that my biggest meal is lunch and not dinner.

When do I back off strength training?

Again, you should not be trying to change things up too much from normal during taper, just back off the length and intensity.  So if you normally strength train twice a week, you should still do that, but your routine should be shorter, with fewer reps and lighter weights (if any).  You should never lift to fatigue during taper.  Remember, you will not gain any fitness taper week.  You are simply going through the motions so that your body is tricked into thinking everything’s normal.


 Should I be this tired? I thought taper was supposed to make me feel better!

Some of us just don’t feel good during taper.  Some people even start to get sick because the immune system lets its guard down after months of hard training.

Not feeling great happens to a lot of us because it take 10-12 days to fully recover from hard workouts, which means you are not going to suddenly feel fresh and peppy.

If you do get sick, here are some great tips from elite marathoner and my colleague, Tina Muir.

Should I schedule a massage?

Be careful with this one.  If you normally get weekly massages (lucky you!), then staying with your routine is probably the best plan, as long as you let your therapist know to take it easy on you this week.

But if you do not have a regular massage routine, this is not the time to start.  Massages are wonderful, but they can also leave you sore, which is the opposite of what you want.

What should my goal pace be? 

You should already have determined your goal pace at least a couple weeks before your race so that you get a chance to practice and perfect it.

As much as we runners love round numbers and big goals, that’s not the best way to choose your goal pace.  For anything but your very first marathon where you are simply trying to finish, goal marathon pace should feel a step harder than easy. The more experienced you are at the marathon, the more you can push the effort level.  If you’ve had a good 12-16 week build-up, the goal pace should be something that felt pretty hard the first few weeks, more manageable in the middle, and good (but still a little scary) toward the end.

If you’ve had a less-than great build up, you’ll want to be a bit more conservative.

I love this article that has an assessment about whether or not you are ready for your goal pace.

This is my seventh marathon taper and I’m feeling surprisingly calm and relaxed this time.  It’s as if I have nothing more than a long run on the books for this weekend.  It’s not that I don’t care about the race this weekend–I most certainly do–but this time, my perspective has changed.  For the better.

Part of this comes from experience.  I’ve been through this before and I know that allowing myself to stress about the race for an entire week does nothing but harm.  I am determined to run this race to the best of my ability which includes sticking to conservative speed limits in the first half and then just seeing where my legs will take me.

With any luck, it will be my best race yet.

A Big Announcement!

As many of you know, I’ve been coached by an online coaching program called Runners Connect for the past year.  Developed by former Hansons-Brooks member and 2:22 marathoner Jeff Gaudette, Runners Connect is an online coaching service and community.  A team of coaches create a running schedule based on your goals and fitness level, you log your workouts and you can share them to the RC community.

The great thing about that is not only do you get expert advice from professional coaches, many of whom were or are elite athletes, you get a community of athletes that are all going through the same thing and cheering you on.

You become part of the tribe.

Because let’s face it, no one but other runners care about your run, what your splits were, or how many miles you ran.  Your non-running friends and family are sick of hearing about your running, okay?

The Runners Connect philosophy is mainly based on the 80/20 principle or polarized training.  You run 80% of the time very easy, and 20% hard.  As counter intuitive as it may seem, running slow will really make you fast.

And I’m proof.

I started running in 2013 to get in shape for my reunion.  I didn’t follow any particular training advice and just winged it on my own.  The reunion came and went and I kept running.

I decided to sign up for a half marathon.  I began to learn a little bit more about the process and ran the Asheville half marathon in September of 2013 in 1:55.

At the finish line of the Asheville Half Marathon in September 2013
At the finish line of the Asheville Half Marathon in September 2013

The next step was to sign up for a marathon, right?  And not just finish a marathon, but qualify for Boston on the first try.  I started researching online, trying to figure out the best strategy.  There are so many articles and advice out there that it’s a bit overwhelming, so I found a free basic plan outline and stuck to it.

I didn’t understand the reasoning behind each workout and felt that the generic plan didn’t fit me at all.  Even so, I finished my first marathon in the Spring of 2014 in 4:02.  I was happy to finish, but it was not a Boston Qualifier.

I needed to do more research.  Whenever I searched a particular topic online, Jeff Gaudette’s name kept popping up.  He’s written for Competitor, Running Times, and many other running sites and I always found his articles to be well-researched and backed by science.

I wanted to know the reason why I was doing a particular workout and Jeff always had the answer.

I discovered a free basic training plan online that he wrote for RunKeeper and I used it to qualify for Boston at the Big Cottonwood Marathon in the fall of 2014 in a time of 3:38, twenty-four minutes faster than my first attempt that same year!

Qualifying for Boston in September 2014 with a time of 3:38.
Qualifying for Boston in September 2014 with a time of 3:38.

I was hooked.

I found that as I was getting fitter, the one-size-fits-all plans weren’t fitting me anymore.  I’d been reading everything I could get my hands on, studying the science of the marathon.

But it wasn’t enough.  I needed help to reach my potential.

So I signed up for Runner’s Connect.  And with their guidance, I am in the best shape of my life.

Racing the French Broad Half Marathon in a PR time of 1:26:40.

So what’s the big announcement?  I’ve been asked to join the team at Runners Connect as a coach!

Me, a running coach?!?  I’ll be backed up by the “real” running experts, of course, but I am so excited to share my experience with others going through the process.

I will also continue to be coached by Runners Connect and member athletes can still follow my training and progress.  I will be the first student to become a coach on their team and I couldn’t be happier about it!  For now, it’s just part-time, but we will see how it progresses.

I have to admit, it is intimidating to join forces as a coach with such talented and accomplished runners and coaches, but my story of becoming a runner later in life is one of the attributes that they liked about me:  I am relatable to so many of their athletes.  I am just a regular person who fell head over heels for running and have accomplished so much in such a short period of time.

My hope is to encourage and inspire all of the athletes in the Runners Connect community to reach their running goals, no matter how big they dream.

If you are curious about the Runners Connect program, please comment below or direct message me.  I’d be happy to help you become the best runner you can be too!