What’s in a name? When you’re training for a race, those last few weeks before a race on a training schedule often get the name “taper.” I’m tapering for my spring marathon right now (Ok, it’s Boston. There, I said it. Boston Boston BOSTON!!! Whew. Sorry, I’m extremely excited – it’s my first!).
Here’s a photo of my friend John and I (I’m on the left, unable to resist making eye contact) running a leg of the cross-country fundraising relay “One Run for Boston 2.” Please consider donating to the One Fund for victims of last year’s bombing through this organization. John ran last year’s race and was in the Forum Restaurant with his family when the bombs went off. We’re both running it this year.
Anyhow, tapering conjures up all kinds of images of slacking off, backing down, fidgeting, etc. Yes, it’s literally true to the extent that you need to back off on the mileage. Any training schedule worth its salt will have a peak mileage week several weeks out from a race, followed by one to three weeks of lower mileage. This can be a source of anxiety for anyone who’s been pushing it, feeling good, and is looking forward to the challenge of a race. Multi-month training schedules have cutback weeks all through them to give you a chance to heal. The “taper” is your last chance to heal up before the big day – don’t waste it.
I’ve heard the term “peaking” substituted for the taper a few times. I like it. It conjures up an image of a roller coaster. You’ve been flying along, going up and down hills and you come to the last big up before a downhill push to the finish. You’re going fast but you’re slowing as you near the top of the final big hill. There’s plenty of momentum to take you over the peak. The coaster has already done all the hard work to get to that point. Push too hard and you just might fly off the rails!
Peaking is getting your body to that sweet spot of conditioning where you are ready, but not exhausted. Better undertrained than overtrained, so they say. You’re not going to improve your fitness with a 20 miler the week before your big race. I’ve read that it’s okay to hit your goal pace in your “peaking” weeks – cutting back on mileage doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give good effort.
It’s encouraging and it feels good to be hitting your pace at lower mileage in those last few weeks. I feel ready for Boston – like I’m peaking, not slacking. I’m looking forward to that great race and then transitioning into getting ready for another – Hospital Hill!