I spend weeks looking forward to a taper, but it always comes with the mental anguish of trying not to spend all my free time eating. If carb loading is so popular, why can’t I stock up a week in advance? Of course I use this excuse all winter long, which is why in May I’m still trying to ride off a few mugs of eggnog and most of a Christmas ham. The taper brings all kinds of psychological and physiological confusion. Exactly when we’re nervously anticipating an event we’ve been prepared for, we’re telling our bodies to slow down and recover. Somehow, “recover” sounds just the same to me as “cake.” It is a waste to spend months on training only to feel like a waterlogged can of Spam on race morning, so I’ve been working on some nourishing taper techniques. These help me stay focused on the race and feel like I am still training, even if I’m spending less time on the trails and more time with a book.

Hydrate. Everyone thinks they need to hydrate well so they don’t keel over on race day. There is more to it. Hydrating while we taper is essential to the purpose of the taper. Effective hydration helps our bodies in their efforts to rebuild tissues, remove inflammation, and increase cellular respiration (getting things in and out of them). After weeks of training, keeping up on the H20 is the kindest thing we can offer our bodies.

Nourish your immune system. Training regimens and long-term increases in activity, not to mention the stress they add to daily life, can tax the immune system. Now is a good time to replenish it with an increase in vitamin-rich foods. My favorites are chicken bone broth, additional vitamin C, and a B complex. And naps. While it has not yet been published in any medical research that I’ve seen, I am pretty sure that napping in a hammock has even more health benefits than standard sofa napping.

Stop the sugar and booze. Sugar and its trashy cousin, alcohol, are both immune suppressing. They are also both inflammatory, pretty empty of nutritional value (regardless of how much lime we put in that caipirinha), and contribute to blood sugar dysregulation. Alcohol contributes to a host of things we don’t want, but most importantly it makes us cranky, and our families are probably already suffering the short fuses of the tapering athlete. It is best we don’t push our luck.

Love up your body. If we’re training for a race, we’ve probably been going hard all season. Now is the perfect time to use some of that free time to thank your body for all its hard work and good effort. Get a massage. Get a pedicure on the toenails you have left. Take Epsom salt baths. And those naps. Send your body a little gratitude and appreciation for what is has done – and for the next adventure on which it promises to take us.

Use your taper to prepare your body on a cellular level with a little dose of emotional support. You’ll feel refreshed and ready on race day. The cake and cocktails will be waiting for you on the other side of the finish line. //