Most studies have shown that tapering improves measures of mood and psychological state. However, the overwhelming anecdotal evidence is that tapering produces unpleasant psychological effects, a 'Taper Psychosis'.
- A 'psychosis' is a 'loss of contact with reality', and while Taper Psychosis is an extremely minor form, the term does reflect the fact that the runner's belief does not match the reality of their situation.
- This article is not intended to belittle the seriousness of mental illness, which can be devastating. Taper psychosis is a minor, transient condition that does not require intervention. However, other forms of psychosis are serious and professional help should be consulted.
- It is common for a runner to feel slow and lethargic while tapering. This seems to be worse if the taper reduces the training intensity, and this feeling could have some basis in reality if you are becoming detrained.
- The feeling of heavy or dead legs can be due to more Glycogen being stored in the muscles.
- Many new aches and pains occur during the taper period. It's not clear if these have been there all along and the normal training load has masked them, if these symptoms arise only under the lower training load. It seems more likely that the taper period allows for more time to worry about minor problems.
- Short runs seem unexpectedly tough. This is mostly because of the expectation that the run should be trivial, and it's not. After all if you normally run 10 miles, then a 5 mile run will be just as tough as the first half of the 10 miles. The expectation that the run will be 'over before I know it' can lead to the feeling that it is lasting forever.
- Feelings of doubt and uncertainty can be overwhelming during the taper. Going back over your training logs can help build confidence, but there is some degree of faith required. These lyrics reflect how I feel at these times...
- Some runners find themselves rather emotionally volatile, reacting in disproportionate ways to events. It's important to let those around you know that you're suffering from a Taper Psychosis and that some extra allowances may be needed.
- Overtraining Syndrome is a more serious issue with a misleading name. Overtraining Syndrome is less about excessive training and more about insufficient rest and recovery. While some of the impacts of Overtraining Syndrome are physical, many are mental, and I believe that Overtraining Syndrome should really be called "Training Induced Depression." The effects of Overtraining Syndrome can last for many years, so a taper period is unlikely to help.
1 Dealing with Taper Psychosis
These approaches may help if you are suffering from Taper Psychosis.
- Talking to other runners who have been though this can provide comfort and support. For this to work you need people you trust and you need to be honest and open about your feelings.
- Faith and prayer are important aspects of happiness, and can help you deal with Taper Psychosis. (Read 'The Happiness Hypothesis' for more details.
- Relaxation techniques, meditation and visualization not only help with the Taper Psychosis, but also form an important part of tapering strategy.
- Developing a high Internal Control Index and avoiding fatalistic thinking will improve your mental health and your running.
- Understand that the race will involve factors within your control and factors beyond your control (Sun Tzu's 'Heaven' and 'Earth').
- Try to move more factors under your control, especially those related to 'hitting the wall'.
- For those factors outside your control, think through the possible outcomes and plan accordingly. If you're worried about rain, visualize what it would be like racing in the rain and do all you can to prepare for that possibility.
- Experience does not lessen the taper psychosis, but familiarity can help get you through the taper by telling yourself 'this is normal'.