Tapering is a running term that means taking a break from training in order to give your muscles a time to repair themselves from all the damage you’ve been incurring on long runs. This recovery period usually takes place about three weeks before a big event, such as a marathon, and it’s a gradual process. Three weeks before an event, many runners cut back to about 75% of their normal run. The next week finds them at 60% and the week after that one finds them at 50% or 40%, depending on how they’re feeling. These percentages refer to the distance of your runs, not necessarily the effort you’re putting into them, although hard sprinting is generally discouraged when you’re tapering.
The benefits of tapering are obvious. Muscles that have had time to heal will feel better on race day and will also be much less likely to be injured if you take a misstep or push yourself a little too hard. Tapering can also get you more excited for an event, particularly if you’ve been training for a long time. Many veteran runners see the start of tapering as the start of the event and they spend those shorter runs getting mentally geared up for the big day. Tapering can also be rejuvenating, particularly if runners have been more fatigued as runs have become longer and cumulative stress on the body has taken its toll. Although cumulative fatigue is normal, it can be frustrating for runners and tapering takes some of the edge off.
However, tapering in itself can be frustrating for some runners who enjoy their running time and find themselves with excess energy when they cut back on their runs before a race. To avoid feeling jittery or crabby during your tapering period, be sure to get plenty of sleep. If you miss the time to yourself that long runs provided, try to fill that time with other activities that are just for you, such as catching up on reading, taking long baths, or indulging in a long visit with a friend. You can also eat foods that increase your feel-good hormones including serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. Whole grains, nuts, salmon, and avocado are all likely to make you feel better without weighing you down or giving you an artificial sugar high. If you really feel like you can’t take it anymore, you can take an extra run, but be sure to take it easy the next day.