THE TAPER - STATEGIZE YOUR RACE!
You’ve put in all the time and training for your event and now it’s time to make all your hard work pay off! You will greatly improve your race time and event experience by including a taper as part of your training plan.
WHAT IS TAPERING?
Tapering is significantly decreasing your training volume (how much you run, bike, or swim) before any big event.
IMPROVE YOUR TIMES: Tapering helps you focus on recovery which maximizes your training and best prepares you for race day. Most runners experience a 3% performance boost due to tapering. What does that mean? For the average runner, in a marathon race, it translates to shaving off nearly 10 minutes of your finishing time. By putting yourself into maximum recovery mode, you are now reaping the benefits you have sown with your hard work. Your stores of glycogen are replenishing in hyper mode as you recover, refuel, and expend less energy.
PHYSIOLOGICAL GAINS: During the recovery that takes place as you taper, your blood volume and red blood cell count increase. Some runners experience an increase in overall VO2max and running economy. Tapering also increases the amount of glycogen available for your muscles. Glycogen is what powers your muscles, especially during endurance events. Essentially, tapering adds extra fuel to your muscles on race day.
READY TO RACE: By including a taper, not only will your legs feel fresher and more energized for your big event, your mind will feel more alert and focused for the race.
HOW TO TAPER:
TRAINING: The key to effective tapering is to substantially cut back your mileage, while still maintaining your training intensity. Reducing your overall mileage has the greatest impact on recovery and decreasing fatigue. Two important notes - you don’t want to interfere too much with your typical running schedule or your pace. Rather than cutting back on the amount of days you run, just make each run shorter. If you have been training for five days a week, keep training your five days. Keep the speed work in your routine too, just do less of it. For example, only run four, quarter-mile repeats instead of eight. While you don’t want to exhaust yourself with demanding intervals during your taper, you still want to maintain some intensity to keep your body feeling primed for the race. Cutting your overall mileage is the key.
TIMING: The optimal length of your taper will be anywhere between one to three weeks, depending on your race distance and how hard you've trained. Having too short of a taper will leave you tired on race day, while tapering for too long will lead to a loss of fitness. Here are the optimal number of taper days for the most popular race distances:
Marathon – 19-22 day taper
3 weeks before your race – cut 20% out of your mileage
2 weeks before your race – cut 40% out of your mileage
1 week before your race – cut 60% out of your mileage
Half-Marathon and 15K to 30K - 11-14 day taper
2 weeks before your race – cut 30% out of your mileage
1 week before your race – cut 50% out of your mileage
5K to 10K - 7-10 day taper
2 weeks before your race – cut 20% out of your mileage
1 week before your race – cut 50% out of your mileage
NUTRITION: Carb-up! You want to consume more carbohydrates during this time, so progressively increase the percentage of your calories that come from carbs. This means two different things at the beginning and at the end of your taper. Earlier on, you want to increase your carbs by overloading on vegetables. Since tapering is all about recovery, especially in the beginning, you will want to focus even more on healthy, nutrient-dense foods, that are high in anti-oxidants and can speed your recovery. Heap on the vegetables during the beginning of your taper and eat plenty of fresh fruit. In the final days leading up to the race (for a marathon up to 2-3 days before, for other distances 1-2 days before), you will want to switch your focus from vegetables that are high in fiber, to carbs such as rice and pasta. This will help you build up your glycogen stores and avoid GI distress during your event.
SLEEP: Sleep plays a significant role in recovery during your taper. Aim to get eight plus hours of sleep each night in the weeks leading up to the race. Your sleep is vital to full recovery. The most important night of sleep is two nights before your event. Our bodies do take some time to catch up, so remember getting a quality and quantity sleep two nights before the race is even more important than the night before.
THE UNEXPECTED: For all the benefits that tapering has, it’s 100% normal to feel sluggish during the taper. Even the elite runners do. You can feel over-exhausted, your legs feel like logs, and your body like garbage in this time. Don’t worry, this is quite normal. Sluggishness and exhaustion usually come upon you four to six days into the taper and often lasts for a few days. This is understandable because right before your taper you should be at your peak mileage and intensity. Your body needs this time to recover. Also a bit of weight gain right before a race is normal due to your carb-loading (which often adds water) the couple of days preceding the race. Have no fear, this will come off quickly and you will be glad for the extra glycogen in your system during the race.
MULTIPLE RACES: If you have multiple races, especially ones that are close together, choose a few key events to focus your taper on. For someone who trains and races continually, rather than constantly being in taper mode for your race, concentrate on those significant races that you would like to get excellent times in.
To have your best race, you can never cram your training. Plan your peak mileage 3-4 weeks before your event, use a taper, and enjoy your race and the results!