Whether you’re running a half marathon, a full or an ultra, you’ve no doubt been training for over 3 months with repeated early mornings and endless hours of pounding the pavement in pursuit of your goal. If you’ve made it to the tapering phase, the good news is that the hardest part is over and your chances of overuse injuries are now reduced. There is little you can do from here to improve your potential run time, your goal from tapering is to now maximise the training effect, whilst minimising any loss of fitness. Imagine your training was a beautiful painting that you’ve laboured over for hours. It’s now complete and you need to frame it in order to present it for maximum effect.
Whilst you’ve been training, you’re body has been recovering and adapting in order to become stronger, fitter and more capable of repeating the same effort in the future. But that process takes time and whilst you’re training, you may still be recovering from one session when you commence the next. It’s now time to reduce the volume to ensure all those physiological adaptions take place.
Failing to Taper
If you didn’t taper, you’d likely complete the event, but you wouldn’t be maximising your ability or making the most of all that diligent training as you’d be racing whilst still under some level of fatigue. If you stopped training a few weeks early in order to ‘fully recover’, you’d hit the event ‘under-cooked’, not ‘sharp’ and just starting to lose fitness.
Tapering is about resting enough to gain all the extra oomph for your race and to achieve ‘synergism‘, which will be a combination of well-being, remaining injury free, feeling fresh, full of energy and confident of the task ahead.
You may feel like you will lose your fitness, but that is not the case. In general terms the tapering period should be for the last two to three weeks depending on the race distance, generally 2 weeks for a half marathon and 3 weeks for a full marathon, this is also subjective to individual requirements and schedules. Gradually reducing your workload to around 50-70% of normal training volume will ensure you arrive full of energy.
Training workload is a combination of volume and intensity. Volume is a combination of frequency and duration. It is the volume (both frequency and duration) you need to reduce during the taper period. We need to train for shorter periods and less often whilst maintaining the intensity. In particular, our remaining long runs should be completed at race pace to set the neuro-muscular expectation of your body and to familiarise yourself with running at the exact pace at which you intend to compete.
Maximising your taper
In addition to gradually reducing training volume, we need to supplement this with other recovery strategies. Now more than ever sleep and nutrition are paramount. Where possible try to achieve over 8 hours of restful sleep. Studies have shown that athletes in taper experience improved sleep duration and a perceived increase in quality (Taylor et al.1997). Quality nutrition is essential for appropriate recovery, further information on nutrition for endurance can be found here.
During taper, you will start feeling fresh, energetic and keen to push yourself…. DON’T! Save these supreme efforts for the event. Stick to the plan, it’s served you well so far. Enjoy your rejuvenation and spend your extra down-time focusing on mobility, flexibility, foam rolling and planning your nutrition.
Stay positive, relax where possible and race well.