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The trail running taper

Questions and answers about tapering for the trails

Clocks springing forward means summer adventures are just around the corner. But first, trail racing season is fast approaching. This means putting our winter training to the test and rekindling our relationship with the beloved taper (the process of cutting back on training volume in order to physically and mentally recover before a key race). Tapering is as much about resting and recovering as it is about maintaining fitness and mental drive. In other words, chill out so you can race like Kilian. Trail runners generally look forward to tapering, but sometimes it results in physical and mental confusion. Although every individual is unique and different, here are some common questions and answers about tapering for the trails:

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Kilian Jornet and Lori Herron. Photo: Randy Duncan

Q: Why do I need to taper for my trail race?

A:  Trail running requires various movements and muscles, and they’re different from those used in road running. Like any running race, you want to feel rested, rejuvenated, and recovered before you hammer out a hard effort. Tapering is the fine art of resting and recovering from a hard training cycle, while continuing some intensity to maintain muscle tension. In other words, you want all of your muscles to feel rested and ready to fire by the time you hit the start line. 

Q: When should I start tapering for my trail race?

A: Ten days to two weeks before your main race is the ideal time to begin reducing your running volume. 

Q: How much should I decrease volume? 

A: For a two-week taper, you want to decrease your total running volume by 15 to 25 per cent in the first week, and 50 per cent the second week. Of course, this can vary depending on the individual, their specific race, and their long term running goals.

Adam Campbell tapering/recovering like a boss. Photo: Laura Kosakoski

Q: Why do I feel like a sloth during my taper?

A: Tapering can feel like a mind game. On the one hand, you are ready for a reduction in running volume, yet on the other hand, you feel awful as soon as your taper begins. Since our lives are generally focussed around a high volume training regime, our minds can play tricks on us during our taper. You may go through periods of feeling fresh and excited to race one minute, and then lethargic and questioning your entire existence the next. Trust your training. What you are feeling is perfectly normal. 

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Q: Can I do strength work or cross training during my taper?

A: The odd plank: yes. The odd mountain adventure: no. Trail runners love to play in the trails and mountains, and taper time is not the time to be exploring far away places and putting stress on your muscles. Cross training is not resting. Taxing your cardiovascular system and muscles before your race will not give your muscles an opportunity to adapt to the months of hard training. Save that ski tour for after the race. 

Coach Jacob Puzey states this “varies from person to person. Some people don’t do a lot of running in their training as it is, so if they still need to do some cross training (swimming, cycling, hiking, etc.) to keep their metabolism and ability to sleep up, I’m not opposed to it. Just no new stimuli in the weeks leading up to the goal race.”

Q: I’m restless and don’t know what to do with my life 

A: Tapering isn’t easy, as life without hard training can be confusing. Read a book, get your nails done, phone a friend, go shopping for that floor lamp you’ve been eyeing, or bake cookies for your neighbour. If normal isn’t your thing, start preparing your drop bags, looking at the race course map, planning your race outfit, and cooking beets. Pretend you are a normal human being for 10 days, and dive into the world outside of trail running. This normal world may not be as exciting, but you’re just visiting for now. Whatever you do during your taper, be sure to rest your mind as much as your body. 

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