Tapering: the facts

With all those hard miles in the bank a clever taper is essential for race day success. Expert running coach Tom Craggs from RunningWithUs offers his top tips so you can rock up to the start line feeling fresh and ready.

Tapering: the facts

What is tapering?

You body gets fitter and stronger as you rest. This is when all the micro trauma created by your training starts to heal and when you have the chance to rebuild your energy stores to perform. Tapering simply means a planned and gradual reduction in training to ensure you stand on the start line ready to fire on all cylinders.

How long should you taper for?

The length of taper we all need will depend on the volumes of training you’ve been tackling in preceding weeks, your own individual ability to recover and the event you are training for.

Marathon tapering

  • To taper efficiently for a marathon, three weeks before cut your long run back to a maximum of 2.5 hours.
  • Two weeks before race day run for a maximum of two hours, with the final 30 minutes at race pace.
  • A week before race day opt for a nice easy 70-75 minute relaxed run.
  • For more advice read the golden rules of marathon tapering

Half marathon tapering

  • For a half marathon a 7-10 day taper should be enough for most runners.

10K tapering

  • For a 10K race try just a week of light reduction in volume but keep a faster session in the early part of race week!

Frequency is key

Your body likes routine and patterns of training, so avoid the rustiness many runners feel from cutting back too much and keep the frequency of your training the same. If you normally run four times a week, continue to run four times a week in the final three weeks.

In the final two weeks before a marathon though we can cut back the volume of each run by about 30 per cent two weeks before and down to a few easy 30 minute runs in race week.

Mind games

The taper is when the gremlin will start talking to you, asking you if you have done enough and reminding you of those missed runs. Stay headstrong and remind yourself of the positives!

Look back over your training diary from the last few weeks. Note down 5-10 key positive statements. It could be a PB in a build up race, a session that went really well, or that you were consistent with stretching and conditioning. Get them noted down and fix them in your mind. Now is not the time to focus on the negatives.

Less is more

It’s a cliché but less certainly is more in the taper period. You need to do enough training not to feel rusty but the worst thing you can do is panic train trying to back fill for sessions you have missed or when trying to prove your fitness to yourself.

Listen to your body. If you are extra tired or sore take an additional rest day and book yourself in for a sports massage at least four days before the start of your race. 

Rest is best

Taper madness can lead runners to doing odd things. Don’t use the extra time you have from training less to suddenly start doing all the DiY jobs around the home or add in more cross training.

Try to book the Friday before race day off work and stay off your feet. If your race has an expo make sure you get in and out and don’t spend hours walking around sampling all the new products – your legs will not thank you on race day!  

Sprint it out

As you cut back your training it's common to feel a bit sluggish. We recommend turning your legs over with some faster running to stop this happening. We call it sharpening!

To feel fresh and burn off nervous energy include some lower volume interval sessions in the final 3-4 weeks before race day. This could be something simple such as 10-12 x 400m efforts with a 45-60 second recovery. If you’re racing a half or full marathon it might also be worth going to your local 5K parkrun the week before your race for a short, sharp blast.

Get more sleep

The growth hormone is released as you sleep; your natural performance enhancer which helps to heal muscles and tissue fibres. Sleep also helps with cortisol balance and your bodies ability to manage insulin and energy metabolisation. Try to get an extra 15-30 minutes a night in the final 2-3 weeks before a race, it could make a massive difference to your final performance.

Practice good ‘sleep hygiene’. Banish smart phones and tablets from the bedroom, find a good routine and pattern where you aim to hit the sack at the same time most or all nights and avoid stimulants such as caffeine or alcohol late at night. Aim to eat your main meal a little earlier; ideally two hours or more before you sleep. For more sleep tips, click here

For more advice on mastering the taper, click here. Good luck!

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