How To Avoid Taper Anxiety

Taper Tips from BlackToe Coaches

The final weeks leading up to race day can feel exciting, but for many runners, it can also be incredibly nerve-wracking. This is usually the time when runners are tapering. With all the hard training now behind you, tapering usually involves reducing both the intensity and distance you run in the weeks leading up to race day.  On the one hand, there’s a huge sense of accomplishment – maybe even a feeling of relief! But on the other hand, it is very common to feel anxiety and worry in the process. Did you train enough? Will you lose all your fitness if you reduce your volume? Does your knee suddenly hurt, or your throat feel a bit sore?!

Don’t worry. You are not alone. Almost all runners experience some sort of pre-race jitters, even elite athletes.

So, if you’re gearing up for a race, and the taper is making you crazy, we’ve got your back. We’ve compiled the best advice from our BlackToe coaches to help you tame the taper and get to the start line with a champion mindset.

Trust the Taper

BlackToe coach, Andrea Smith, says it’s important to trust your training. “The hard work is already done,” she says. “Trust in the training plan you’ve followed leading up to the race. Trust in the process and the preparation you’ve put in.”

Even though it can feel scary to pull back on the intensity, it’s important to remember that you won’t get any more benefit from further hard training at this stage in your plan.

“A taper is the final 1% in race preparation,” adds Bryan Rusche, BlackToe coach. “99% of your performance is the work you've done already. Don't expect your pace to improve by 2, 3, or 4% over what you were doing in training. You can reduce your taper anxiety by remembering your taper isn't the thing that is going to make or break your race. It's how well you've trained and how well you pace your race for your fitness level.”

Avoid Worrying & Focus on the Positives

Worried about the weather? What if you get a side stitch halfway through and can’t continue? Should you wear a singlet or a T-shirt? What if you get a blister? The list of worries is seemingly endless. But here’s the thing: worrying about things you can’t control is counterproductive. Instead, focus on the things you can control such as running the first kilometre sensibly, relaxing down hills or other “housekeeping” strategies.

Instead of worrying, Coach Andrea says to focus on the positives. “Focus on positive thoughts and visualization. Visualize yourself crossing the finish line strong and achieving your goals. Positive self-talk can help alleviate anxiety and build confidence.”

Coach Kim Krezonoski adds, “This goes without saying but it takes a LOT of work to get to a start line – a lot of adversity, success, and failures. Trust your body is ready and knows what to do when the miles get tough.”

Focus on Rest and Recovery

There is no perfect way to taper. Regardless of your process, your goal is rest and recovery. Coach Andrea recommends embracing extra sleep, good nutrition and hydration in the weeks leading up to race day.

Coach Bryan adds that there is a certain “art” to tapering and like all things related to endurance running, there is some trial and error involved.

“Some people recover quickly and feel great with lots of rest,” he says. “For others, cutting back on training ends up making you feel more tired and new aches and pain spring up. After months of hard work, it's almost like your body doesn't know what's going on. As a rule, the more you've been training, the more you'll need to cut back to be fully rested and get rid of any residual fatigue from training. The lighter the training load, the more you're going to lean towards just focusing on getting good sleep and eating well the week before. You may need to go through a few tapers to know what works best for you. If you're not sure, I recommend cutting back training more than less. It's better to start a race rested than not rested enough.”

Treat Taper Week as Normally as You Can

Much like race day, taper week is not the time to try anything new! Since you’re no longer spending all your free time running, you may be looking for things to fill your time, but Coach Kim says to keep things as normal as you can while you’re tapering.

“Don't all of a sudden try rock climbing if you haven't been rock climbing the entire build,” she says. “Don't suddenly eat a pan of lasagna for "carb loading" if you don't eat pans of lasagna before workouts.”

Follow Your Own Plan

How do you know someone is training for a marathon? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

There’s some truth in this old joke – runners love to talk about their training with other runners. But all that chat can sometimes make you doubt your plan, especially if it’s different from others. Coach Kim says that a great way to avoid pre-race jitters is to follow your own plan.

“Reflect on the nutrition plan that worked for your long runs throughout your build and stick to it,” she says. “Have a comfortable outfit that you crushed intervals in? Wear it! Confidence through preparation goes a long way.”

She also recommends that you avoid trying to do everything on offer on race-weekend. While there may be an action-packed calendar of shakeout runs, social events, race expos, guest speakers and pasta dinners, she recommends monitoring your own energy levels and listening to your body. “Everyone’s race experience and preparation is different,” she says. “Use your own energy compass to guide what events to attend and which ones to skip.”

Seek Support

While running may be a solo activity, it really is a community sport. If you’re feeling anxious about race day, seek support. Coach Andrea recommends talking to fellow runners or one of the BlackToe coaches about your taper anxiety.

“Sharing your feelings with others who understand can provide validation and support,” she says. “Remember: you’re not alone in feeling this way.”

So, if you’ve got a race on the horizon, try to remember some of these tips if you’re feeling anxious. And remember that all runners have different ways of dealing with stress and nervousness. Find out what works for you and develop your own pre-race formula.

Have more questions about tapering or pre-race prep? Come chat to our expert staff at BlackToe Running. Whether it’s your first race or your 50th, we would be happy to help make your race day as successful as possible.

Why Taper?

Tapering is an important part of any training plan. It is a time to let your body rebuild, refuel and recover in preparation for your race. While the hard work of your training is done, the taper can sometimes be the hardest part of your training plan to execute properly. That’s because it is hard work for your mind!

Some of the key reasons to taper include:

  • It helps you re-energize before race day and avoid fatigue.
  • You won’t get any more benefit from further hard training.
  • More training could lead to injury or depleting your muscles of carbohydrates.

How to Taper

Everyone will approach tapering differently. People taper anywhere from 1-3 weeks. Remember: tapering isn’t about stopping all running or exercise completely. Instead, it’s about doing shorter, less intense training sessions. This will give you the time you need to rest and recover. After the longest run of your training plan, begin to taper. A good rule of thumb is to cut down your weekly mileage by 25% and to add an extra rest day into your usual routine. Gradually reduce the amount of exercise you do, but don’t stop completely. Continue to eat how you normally eat, and consider adding some additional stretching, sports massage or yoga into your routine.