Most runners have definitely heard of the taper. Tapering refers to the final two-to-three weeks of training in which one gradually reduces their running volume and rests up for race day. Few, however, take it as seriously as they should.
The purpose of the taper is to allow the body (and mind) to rest, recover and ready itself for the demands of a race. It involves a pronounced reduction in one’s training volume but retains a select amount of intensity to keep the body (and mind) feeling fresh and sharp. Done right, it can take seconds and even minutes off your finish time making the difference between a PB, a BQ or just a mediocre race.
The length of a taper depends largely on the race one is preparing for. A marathon requires a taper of at least seven to 10 days and as many as two-to-three weeks. A half-marathon taper can be as short as four to five days but generally at least a week long. Shorter races such as 10K and 5K often only require a few easy days or days off beforehand.
The defining characteristic of the taper is reduced training volume meaning that the distance and time spent running decreases. As a general rule, you should reduce your (peak) training volume by 20-25 per cent two to three weeks out from race day and between 50 and 60 per cent the week of the race (Note: that does not include the race itself).
For example, if your peak training mileage was 75K of running, reduce your mileage to 60, 55 and 30K (again, not including the race) in the final three weeks of training.
As for workouts, those should be maintained but again, decreased slightly. For example, instead of doing 4-5 x 2K at goal race pace, do 3-4 x 1K at race pace. A common mistake is to do too much in the final few weeks of training. Unfortunately, there is very little you can do to increase your fitness in the final two weeks or so. You can, however, jeopardize your race performance by trying to do too much. Always err on the side of caution, both when it comes to volume and intensity. Less is definitely more during taper time.
Ultimately, you want to give your body a much needed physical break from the stress and strain of training and allow it to recover and be ‘fresh’ for the race. Use this time off running to make a race (pacing) plan, reflect on your past training, spend time with friends, family or fellow runners or if you must, engage in other aerobic but non load-bearing activities such as swimming and cycling. Many runners report feeling anxious, irritable and agitated during the taper. Others question their fitness or begin to feel phantom injuries and pain. This is commonly referred to as ‘taper madness.
RELATED: Surviving marathon (taper) madness
Carbo-loading is also an important part of any taper and should be saved for the final two-to-three days before the race. Combined, tapered training and a proper carbo load will put runners in the best possibly position to run and perform at one’s best.