Roadrunner, roadrunner #5: Taper for your goal race

You’ve picked your goal race and trained hard over the last few months. As race day approaches, it is time for the (sometimes dreaded) taper! Here’s how to taper for your goal race (without going crazy).

Why we taper

The taper is an important part of any training block. A taper is a decrease in training load that athletes undergo in order to rest and prepare for a peak performance. Earlier on in a training block, we tax our bodies with higher weekly mileage and workouts. In doing so we improve our fitness, but we also accumulate fatigue and stress on our bodies. By reducing our running volume leading into a key race, we enable our body to recover from the hard training we have done (while keeping our fitness gains) and prepare for a peak performance.

How to taper...

The length of a taper can depend on the individual’s adaptation and recovery, but generally a taper of 7-10 days for a 5k or 10k and 2-3 weeks for a half marathon or marathon are the norm. During this final stage before a goal race, we reduce our training volume by cutting back our weekly mileage. Ideal taper mileage can vary depending on the individual, but a good place to start is a two week taper with a 25% reduction in mileage (compared to your regular weekly mileage earlier in the training block) the first week, followed by a week at 50% of your regular mileage leading into the race.

It is still important to keep some intensity in your training schedule during a taper, so schedule in some workouts at the same frequency as you did during your high mileage weeks. 10-14 days out from your race is usually a good time for your last hard workout(s). In the week leading up to your goal race, run a workout of short repeats at goal pace to practice getting dialed in and hitting your splits. Make sure you don’t use your fresh and rested legs as an excuse to hammer your easy days or “prove fitness” in your last few workouts; stick to your assigned paces and save the big effort for race day. Remember, recovery is the priority during a taper. If you feel that you need an extra day off or very easy, take it and don’t feel guilty.

...without losing your mind

For highly motivated, hard-working runners, backing off is usually the last thing they want to do before a big race! The mental side of tapering can be tough to handle, so here are some suggestions to help avoid the “taper tantrum:”

*Put some time and effort into recovery. If you have extra time on your hands from the reduced training, use it to help your recovery along. Go to bed earlier, spend some time on recovery modalities like stretching or rolling, or prepare some healthy meals.

*Mentally prepare for the race. If you find yourself getting anxious before a big race, take this time to work on your mental game. Visualize your race and practice mantras or mental cues that will help you stay positive and focused. Be confident in the training you have done and remind yourself of some key workouts that went well to affirm that yes, you are ready.

*Stay positive. You will be running less but you won’t lose fitness. Remind yourself that you are preparing your body for a big effort in your goal race. Enjoy the feeling of running on fresher legs for a week or two. Remember, we don’t “have to taper,” we “get to taper” so that we can crush it on race day!

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