What is Tapering? by Claire Senior
Tapering is simply the act of reducing exercise before an important race, and is common practice in many endurance sports such as swimming and cycling, as well as running.
If you’re training really hard for an event, why would you want to stop training? Surely, the more you train, the better you will be? Well, yes, to a certain extent. However, the aim of tapering is to allow your body to recover so that it can perform optimally on race day.
Do I need to taper before every race?
It depends on why you are racing. If the race is simply part of your training program in the build up to another, more important race, then you might just treat it as another training session. If you are aiming for a strong race and a PB, then tapering will help your body to be at its optimum, so you are not ‘running on tired legs’.
How do I taper?
Tapering is dependent on many factors, such as the volume and intensity of your training, the race distance, and how fast your body recovers from training, your fitness levels and experience.
As a general rule, 3 weeks tapering for a marathon, 2 weeks for a half marathon and one week for 10km. Don’t just stop. It is about reducing the volume and intensity enough so that you maintain a level of fitness but allow time for tissue damage to be repaired, bodily processes to be restored, glycogen stores to be replenished, and so on. Ready for another ‘general guide’? Reduce your weekly running time or distance by about 20-25% and go at an easy pace. Experienced runners looking to stay sharp might want to add some short speed sessions in, to keep their legs ticking over.
As far as nutrition goes, don’t try new and exotic things during your taper. Stick to food and patterns that you have tried during your training and that you know work well for you. You don’t want to find that something disagrees with you or makes you ill on the lead up to your race. Moderate consumption of complex carbohydrates a couple of days leading up to the race works well for most runners.
After the months of training you have put in, you might be forgiven for thinking that tapering might be a welcome break. The first few days are indeed a welcomed rest. However, for many, the reality is that they then start to miss the hard training and the (what I like to call) ‘running twitches’ start to kick in as they start to miss their intense training. Speak to a non-runner about this and they will likely think you are crazy… but rest assured, you are not alone in this. Try to keep your mind occupied and use your spare training time to catch up on a bit of reading or meeting friends.
Tapering is as much about mental preparation as physical recovery, so relax, recover and visualise an enjoyable and successful race. By the time race day arrives, you will be fully recovered and raring to go!
And thank you Claire for sharing your story with us.
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