Depending on the distance they’re racing, runners will typically take one or two easy training weeks before their race to let their bodies recover enough to feel fresh for race day. This is called tapering, and it allows for proper absorption of their final phase of training. Though ideally you’ll go into the race well prepared, what happens if your training was compromised in some way, either through injury or lack of time? Does it still make sense to taper, regardless of what kind of shape you are in?
We asked Ben Devito, head coach of Toronto’s Blue Devils Athletic Club and an elite distance runner, for his opinion. “The simple answer is yes,” he says. “You want your body to feel solid on race day, but if you are trying to squeeze in last-minute training, you might as well not even race. Some athletes need a larger taper than others, and you can learn this with experimentation.” Devito adds that athletes who have had a proper training block leading up to their race might do a longer taper than those who are undertrained, but even if you have done no training at all, it isn’t recommended to squeeze in long training sessions days before your race.
Obviously, to set yourself up for success, your training should be adequate to meet the demands of the event you’re racing. But the bottom line is, even if your training has been less than top-notch, you should always taper before a race.