You’ve trained hard, logging miles and braving the elements, for that forthcoming race you’ve had your sights upon long ago. Now, as the event looms near, it’s time to cut-back, it’s time to taper! You’ve likely heard of tapering before a race, but how long should your taper be? How much do you need to decrease volume/intensity?
Why do you need to taper?
Tapering, in its most simple form, is a decline from activity intended to rejuvenate. As the big event arrives, we desire freedom from fatigue, both physically and mentally. Tapering, when done correctly, will offer that liberation. The longer your race is, generally speaking, the longer your taper should be. If you are one who skips a taper, you are missing out on the chance to perform at your potential. The taper allows your body to completely absorb all of your hard training and decrease fatigue without losing gains. Based on recent research, the average performance increase from adhering to a taper is around 3%!!
Let's take a closer look
Why a taper?
Increase Glycogen Stores - Reducing your running allows glycogen, the stored energy from carbs, to accumulate in your muscles. During your taper, your muscle glycogen are replenished to peak levels.
Repair Muscles and Connective Tissue - Running is a high impact sport, which means wear and tear on the body. The taper is necessary to let your body rebuild and become stronger than before.
Improve Mental Freshness - Training is just as much a mental battle as a physical one. Arriving at your event with a clear head is vitally important. As the race progresses and your body urges you to stop, your mind must will the limbs to gallop onward. As the finish line draws near and the competition is nips at your heals, mental toughness helps you surge onward to victory.
Reduce Injury Risk - Many times, as intensity and volume increase, you’re more likely to develop muscle twinges or pain. Tapering allows the body to repair, and helps clear-up these twinges before race day.
General Taper Guidelines
Gradual reduction in training volume: You will want to sneak in a couple more rest days. The reduction varies, ranging from 10-50 percent in totality.
Maintain Intensity/Reduce Volume: Be sure to keep your workout paces the same, but decrease the number of intervals, and/or increase rest duration.
Get Plenty of Sleep - While sleeping, your body uses that time to heal.
Stay hydrated and fuel properly: Drink an extra 8-16 ounces of water per day. This is especially important the few days leading up to your race.
Rest: Tapering is not just about decreasing your mileage, but reducing total energy expenditure.
Duration: taper length is directly correlated to the event distance: Marathon, 2-4 weeks; half Marathon, 1-2 week; 5k-10k, 2 days-1 week.
Important to note
It is common during a marathon taper to experience feelings of illness. The substantially higher training volume, followed by short recovery, has an afflictive effect on the body.
As training volume for a marathon is substantially higher than that of other events, the taper has a perplexing effort on the body.
It is almost as if your body 'shuts off' in response the volume decrease. This is a normal physiological response! It is crucial to stick to the taper plan. Many will add in extra miles here and there because they 'feel good' or are just plain bored with lower volume. It is so important to stay on track. Your coach has set out the plan to get you in the best possible condition for your race. You could sabotage your performance by wandering off track.
Distance Specific Tapering Tips
5k/10k - Reduce or completely eliminate the long run 1 week prior to the race. Take the day before the race off completely or do a short (20-40 minute) easy (2-3 minutes slower than 5k pace) run.
Half Marathon - During the first week (of 2) your long run should not exceed 6 miles. During the 2nd week, run 2-3 times with a max mileage of four. The 2 days leading up should be very low key. Take the day before off or do an easy shakeout run.
Marathon - In the first week(of 3), overall volume should be decreased, but some high intensity should remain. Limit your long run to just 15 miles the first week. Week 2, no more than 10 miles for your long run. In the week leading up to your race, no runs over 5 miles. As with the half marathon, the two days leading up should be super low key. Take them as rest days or do a shakeout run the night before.
General Weekly Mileage Reduction Schedule
The taper is a very important piece of the training program. Your event’s distance will generally determine the length of your taper. Adhere strictly to your taper schedule to perform your best on race day! Keep in mind that the above information is a general guide, you may need more of a taper depending on your current fitness level and how well you recover. Many find it very difficult to commit to a taper plan and wind up 'breaking the taper'. I assure you that you will not lose your fitness during your taper, it is a chance for your body to become stronger and you will show up to race day feeling amazing!
Editor: Jason Quarford