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Tapering is the practice of gradually reducing your training programming to allow your body the proper time to rest, repair and recover from the fatigue of intense training. Tapering is an extremely necessary and effective way to prepare your body for a long endurance event. But sometimes, it can cause extreme anxiety because the thought of scaling back and incorporating true rest days in the last few weeks leading up to an event can seem counter-productive to success. In reality, tapering is essential to optimal performance and is key to reaching peak performance for your event.
The benefits of tapering far outweigh intense training up until the day of your event. One of the biggest fears is losing or depleting your fitness levels and gains during the period of tapering when, in fact, the tapering period actually makes you stronger. Intense training or high mileage deplete your muscle glycogen, antioxidants, enzymes, and hormone levels while the tapering period allows your body the time it needs to return these levels to optimal ranges. Tapering also allows your body to repair muscle, ligament and joint impairments that may have occurred during your most intense training.
Tapering isn’t just beneficial to the physical aspects of your body. It also allows you to mentally refresh, reflect and spend the time doing the activities you may have had to skip due to the commitment of your strict training regimen.
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS I CAN DO?
During your taper week, we want you to plan for success by focusing on sleep, hydration, mobility, and nutrition, as well as trying to remove as much anxiety as you can. Thinks of Taper Week as a rest day x 7. Since you’ve been following our Horizon planned rest days so well, you should feel confident that what you’ve done then also works now. And if you haven’t been following our recommendations as closely as you could have, consider this your week to finally do it!
In a perfect world, we’d all be getting 8 hours of solid, restful sleep a night. Unfortunately, pre-event anxiety can impact your sleep. Following our recommendations from earlier posts and keeping your bedroom dark and cool, limiting electronic devices prior to bed, limiting alcohol and going to bed at a consistent time can go a long way to getting the best sleep you can hope for. There’s a lot of discussion in long-distance communities about paying attention to the quality of your week’s sleep, rather than the individual night’s sleep. It takes some of the pressure off the “night before’s” sleep, which can help calm any jitters. If you can nap prior to the event, god-speed. Do that.
Going into an event hydrated sets you up for success. Believe it or not, the weather is not as big a factor in hydrating as it might seem. An individual can get just as dehydrated in cold weather as in warm. Instead, watch your urine for clues that you are keeping your hydration at peak levels. Be cautious not to over hydrate though. Sometimes, overcompensating by drinking too much water can lead to unexpected issues. The standard rule of thumb for hydration during taper week is to be mindful leading up to the day before the event, but drink only to thirst. The night before your event, drink 16oz prior to bed. (Some athletes find benefit with Pedialyte prior to an event, or even 1% milk - the jury’s still out on the science of milk being more hydrating than water, but worth a shot.) Then, 2-4 hours before your event begins, drink 16-24oz of your preferred hydration drink - either water, Gatorade, Tailwind or other electrolyte drink, or juice.
While drinking water before bedtime the night before your event might lead to more trips to the bathroom, and potentially more anxiety dwelling on what might be, it helps keep you topped off and avoid losing hydration while sleeping through sweating (which we all do, regardless of if you notice it or not). Stay away from hard alcohol, but a single beer or a glass of wine isn’t the worst thing that could happen the night before.
Keeping your muscle fibers flexible, pliable and moving with mobility (especially focusing on hip mobility) will help retain muscle tension, which will help keep your body feeling fresh for event day. Go back through our recommended mobility videos to do the yoga or foam rolling video that worked best for you. You will want restorative movement, to keep your blood flowing, and you might even need some of the mental break your mobility practice can provide.
Don’t eat junk. One of our favorite “carb” dishes is roasted sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and cranberries. Delicious, nutrient-rich, and provides the kinds of carbohydrates a healthy body needs prior to a grueling event. Save the pop-tarts for a post-event treat! Eating them now will make you feel like a garbage truck.
Follow our nutrition and carb plan in the nutrition post. Top off your glycogen stores with good carbs, but don’t overeat. Instead, focus on good nutrition, and foods that work best for your body during training. Don’t eat anything new, and don’t eat carbs you don’t typically eat. If you don’t eat bagels and spaghetti usually, don’t start the night before your Star.
Anxiety is a normal part of our current existence, but there are things you can do to limit how much you absorb.
Pack your ruck early! Don’t wait until the last minute and have to rush around looking for things. Lay everything out you plan to use, test equipment you’ll need, snacks you want to bring and how best to pack your ruck to access your most important items.
Finalize all travel plans ahead of time, and if you’re traveling to your event, arrive with enough time to rest, have a meal and maybe even a nap. Arriving early = feeling calm and in control. Look up parking, public restrooms nearby...whatever you think you’ll feel better knowing, even if you wind up not needing that information.
Minimize stress leading up to the day before your event. If you can leave work early a day or two before your event to buy yourself some time to prepare, do that. Ask for a day off after your event, if the thought of going straight back to work stresses you out. Consider the things that stress you in your day-to-day life and make plans to minimize what you can.
Plan for the best outcome. World-class athletes play the mental long game. They take the time to visualize their process, their progress, and the end result. Spend some quiet time imagining yourself working through difficult moments on the course and how you’ll get through them. Visualize finishing the course, how good it will feel, and what achievement means to you. Remind yourself of your “Why.” Why are you doing this? Why is it important to you? Carry those reasons with you.
Every person is different, so it’s important to use a taper plan that works for you and this may take a few events for you to figure that out so use the trial and error method. Be sure to track what you do for each event and make a list of the pro and cons and how each of those affected your event. Remember tapering is about learning to Embrace The Less so you can prepare your body to Embrace The Suck!