You have put in all the hard miles leading up to an event and really want to put in your best performance. A good performance on the day will mainly be determined by the training done well in advance. However, with a few simple changes to your training the week or so before an event, you can have a significant improvement in race day performance. This process of changing training prior to an event is called tapering and it can make all the difference for first time participants up to elite level athletes.
So what is tapering?
Tapering is the reduction in training load in the lead up to an event. In full training, you will always be feeling slightly fatigued or sore and hence tapering aims to repair and refresh your body in order to have the best outcome on race day.
Dr Kate Spilsbury is a physiologist for UK athletics and has a research background in tapering – these are her recommendations for the perfect taper.
– You should start tapering anywhere between 6 days to 3 weeks prior to your event. The longer the event and the more miles you have been doing in training, the longer the taper will need to be. For example you may only need a week to taper for a 5/10k but would need closer to 3 weeks for a marathon.
– The volume of training i.e. total miles should be dropped by 40-60%. However the number of runs a week should be the same. So this means if your long run normally is an hour long, this should be reduced to 30 mins during the taper. This is the same with all the sessions so total weekly mileage should be about halved.
– The intensity if training should remain the same. This means keeping the same pace as you normally would for each of your sessions. Longer runs stay steady and interval sessions remain faster. But they may well feel easier as the overall distance will be less.
– Keeping the speed but dropping the distance will allow your body to recover from all those miles whilst keeping you feeling sharp and prevent that sluggish feeling – “the priming effect”.
– Don’t be afraid of dropping the volume, you can drop it significantly without negatively effecting performance. But you need to keep up the intensity.
In summary – cut the volume in half but keep the pace the same.
For me personally, I like my rest day two days prior to an event. If I don’t run the day before it makes me feel sluggish so I always rest two days before and then do a steady run the day before. Everyone is different and lots of people take a rest day the day before. It’s about working out whats best for you which only comes with more events!
What about other training?
Keep to your normal stretching, foam rolling, yoga etc. With some extra time on your hands it can be tempting to try out that new yoga pose – but DON’T. If strength training is normal part of your week then you may wish to reduce this also. Early in the taper cut down the volume or intensity of strength work. Closer to the event you may wish to cut the session all together. Trying out new exercise or training is absolutely fine – just not before a race.
You may wish to slightly reduce energy intake in the taper week as you will be doing less miles. But in general keeping the same diet is fine – negative energy balance from eating less will compromise your recovery. The day before a race I will always eat my main meal at lunch time. Any carbs eaten late the evening before will not have time to digest fully so you wont get an energy boost and it may lead to you feeling bloated. Also it is a good idea during your longer runs a few weeks earlier to practice what you are going to eat for breakfast and also if you are going to have a gel or something to eat mid way through the race. Again don’t try a new energy gel mid race if you haven’t done it before as it can go terribly wrong!
What about a race plan?
I think it is a good idea to have a race plan – even if that plan is to go out and enjoy it. If you are a little more serious with your goals, then thinking about race splits or researching the course will always stand you in good stead for the day. Pre race check lists are always a good idea to make sure you have everything, especially if you are travelling.
Spend this extra time during taper week to enjoy yourself! You have done all the hard work and not much extra fitness can be achieved in the lead up, so you are much better following the tapering plan above than cramming in more miles. Have faith in your training, and your taper, and you will get the best possible outcome on race day!
Here is an example plan for a normal training week and what the equivalent taper week would look like. This is roughly for a half marathon in a time of 1.45. But it illustrates how much the volume is dropped, yet the pace remains the same.
|18k @ 5.30
|10k @ 5.30
|10 mins w/u, 2x20mins @ 4.45, 10min w/d
|10min w/u, 2 x 10mins @ 4.45, 5min w/d
|30min @ 5.30
|20 min @ 5.30
|10min w/u, 6 x 1k @4.30, 10min w/d
|10min w/u, 3 x 1k @4.30, 10 min w/d
|50min starting @5.30 getting 5s faster every 10mins
|30mins @ 5.30