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As I write this, this week is taper week for me — the week when I dial back my training in hopes that the additional rest will enhance my race performance. I've been training for the cycling portion of a half distance triathlon relay. In my race, I will cycle 56 miles.

Less cycling. This should be an easy week, right? Not exactly. Cutting back on training is not quite as simple as it sounds, because even though you are exercising less and resting more, it is very difficult to turn off your mind. You really want to get in one last long workout. Don’t, advises triathlon coach Katie Malone.

Whether you are training for a long endurance race like an Ironman or marathon, or training for a 5K run, it is important to give your body some time to rest.

“A taper is basically a chance to let your body absorb all of the training you have put in,” she said.

The length of the taper depends on the length of your race.

“For a long event like an Ironman, taper could be as much as three weeks, but for a 5K, you might only taper for two to three days,” Malone said. “People undervalue the effect of rest. During your taper period, fuel your body with good foods. Sleep extra. Don't use your rest days as an opportunity to cut your grass or do errands. Rest means that you come home from work, eat a good meal and put your feet up.”

She says nutrition is very important during this period because your immune system may be weak during peak fitness.

Another mistake that Malone sometimes sees athletes make is over hydrating with water.

“Make sure you aren't drinking like a camel in the days before because drinking too much water will flush out your electolytes,” she said. “You can top off electrolytes by drinking a bottle of sports drink for every bottle of water.”

During your taper period, Malone recommends cutting your training by 50 percent or more.

“You should look at your schedule and think that it is ridiculously easy,” she said. “It is about movement, not progress.”

She does recommend a quality workout using race-paced intervals two to three days prior to your big event. For events that require travel, she recommends a short tune-up run after arriving at your destination the day before a race to loosen up your digestive system.

Since the decrease in physical training will leave you with a little time on your hands, Malone recommends mental training.

“Picture your best-case scenario,” she said. “Set goals in your mind and picture yourself accomplishing those things. Think about obstacles you might face and picture how you will overcome them. Read motivational books about racing. Take time for peace and quiet. If you go in with a good mindset, you will race better.”

Giving yourself permission to rest will guarantee a better race. When you have taken the time to rest and the big day finally comes, Malone has a bit more advice.

“Smile,” she said. “You are doing this for fun. When you smile it sends a message to the brain to relax. Be relentlessly positive. Enjoy being out there.”

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