Ask Ann: Taper Crazies

Ann Trason

I’m suffering. Help. I think it’s an extreme case of something they call “taper crazies.” I know I should be tapering for a 100-mile, but I’m out there turning out big volume. How do you fight off the taper crazies? How much is too much? What should the ideal taper look like going into a 100?

Thanks,
Taper Crazy

Dear Taper Crazy,

Congratulations on your upcoming race! Before we talk about warding off the “Taper Crazy Blues,” let’s acknowledge why you have them: You love running! And that’s the main ingredient you need for a successful race.

It may not be a surprise to you, but tapering is considered as much an art as a science. At the risk of adding fuel to your “taper crazies,” the answer to what is the best taper regimen is far from clear cut. With that said, I believe three weeks out is the right time frame to start a topnotch taper for a 100-miler. This is the week when many ultrarunners, including me, run too much and too hard as they perceive that their 100-mile event is a long way off. Training too much or too hard this week can leave you feeling tired and flat the final two weeks leading up to your event and can lead to a sub-optimal race day performance.

Per my three-week plan, I do my last long run 21 days before a 100-miler. I consider this run as the start of my countdown to my big event. The general rule of thumb I follow is to run 80% of my volume three weeks out, 60% two weeks out and 30% the week before. As I reduce my training volume, I keep up my intensity. According to research, the best performances follow a tapering period in which volume is reduced but training intensity remains high.

To keep the intensity at a high level I complete the same types of workouts I have been doing all along in training – speed work and tempo runs remain part of my workout regimen. Continuing to do my key workouts keeps my legs feeling crisp, fresh and begging for the start line for the much anticipated event.

And this is where the art comes in: Several studies show tremendous variation in individual response to tapering. Tapering plans can vary based on such factors as age, how hard you trained, and how your body reacts to reduced running volumes. As I get older, for example, I need more rest and recovery between and during workouts leading up to an event. If you are a low mileage runner, training volume need only be reduced slightly. Some folks react negatively to a three-week taper and perform better backing off 10 days out. Knowing and listening to your body and taking into consideration your training leading up to your event is truly a form of art. Striving for that peak performance, I suggest you follow the “general rule of thumb” on reducing volume while keeping intensity high. Then, add a little art into the mix. In others words, experiment.

But that’s not all. Tapering does not mean that you’re done training for your big day. Remember that as race day approaches, you still have lots of preparation to do that doesn’t involve putting in the miles. Consider the following your pre-race homework. Ace your homework and I guarantee you will be on the right path to ace your race.

1. Study your race course. Print a few copies of the map and keep them where you can access them anytime you’ll have a few minutes. I like to keep one on my refrigerator door, one in the car, and one by my nightstand.

2. Make your race day game plan. This includes deciding on using a pacer and/or crew and where you want them.

3. Make your list and check it twice. Did you remember those extra batteries for your replacement headlamp?

4. Sleep. You most likely won’t sleep well the few nights prior to the race. Get those extra zzzz’s in now. Sleep not only makes us feel better, we restore and regenerate cells while we sleep.

5. Visualize. One of the single most powerful tools we have during our taper is to know that the hay is in the barn and we must trust our training will be there for us on race day. Now is the time to visualize that strong finish. Along with visualizing your strong finish, you’ll also want to visualize a few things that could go wrong, and how you will successfully problem solve and stay on course.

You may not realize this, but to optimize your performance you will need a mental taper, too. A week out, I focus on sleep and put aside everything else related to my race. As difficult as it can be, this is the time to occupy your mind with non-running thoughts. Read a book or watch a movie. It is also a great time to give back to your loved ones who have supported your rigorous training regimen. Spend time with your family and friends. And do yourself and everyone around you a favor: do not get neurotic and worry you are going to put on pounds of fat.

Most of all, don’t let the “Taper Blues” make you crazy. Save that passion for the start line and know it will be there for you from miles one to 100. Your friends will not judge you by your place in the 100-miler but by the obstacles you had to overcome along your way.

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Ann Trason

Ann Trason is a 14-time women’s champion at the Western States 100, and set World Records at the 50-mile (5:40:18 in 1991), 100K (7:00:47, 1995), 12-Hour (91 miles 1312 yards, 1991) and 100-mile (13:47:42, 1991) distances. Ann was co- director of the Firetrails 50 in northern California for 10 years, and has taught science at the college level. Ann currently coaches middle school cross country and supports other's ultrarunning achievements by volunteering, pacing and crewing at ultramarathon races throughout the Western US.

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