Tapering: What is it? What is it NOT?

For some, the word “taper” elicits a sigh of relief and bouts of uncontrollable excitement.  Unfortunately this is not the case for all.  Several runners have documented that decreasing their volume and intensity in preparation for their goal race increases pre-race jitters and often shakes their confidence.  Runners Feed would like to clear up some of the confusion surrounding tapering and help you best prepare for your big day!

Tapering is….

Listening- Being aware of what your body needs is extremely important during this training phase.  If you feel you need a day off, take one!  If you are antsy for some speed, throw in 4-6 zippy strides after a training run.

Sharpening- Say “so long” to the long run, and the tempo run! It is time to focus on shorter, faster intervals with increased recovery.  These workouts will vary based on the distance of the goal race.  Remember that any fitness gained from hard training sessions usually takes about a month to “sink in” so be smart and rest up!  Channel any extra energy towards post-run strides.

Decreasing volume- Decreasing your volume by 20-25% when you are two weeks out from your goal race, and then decreasing by another 5-10% when you are one week out is a good rule of thumb.  If you have had success tapering by more or less, stick to what has worked in the past.

Decreasing intensity- This is not to be confused with laying by the pool and soaking up the sun.  It means all your “race pace” workouts are behind you, and it is time to bottle up your intensity to unleash on race day.  If you feel the need to be intense, lace up your racing flats or spikes after a training run and “get-after” some strides!

Consistency- Keep your eyes on the prize and don’t waver. Train at your usual training time, and stick to your usual pre-run and post-run routine.  This is not the time to try out Runners World’s latest PR-promising interval workout, or California’s latest fade diet.

Resting- If your life allows for it, this is the time to allow yourself a few “sleep-ins” or extra hours of snoozing.  Sleep allows your body to repair and prepare.  If sleeping in isn’t an option, try to choose activities that keep you off your feet and your heart-rate down (i.e. Adam Sandler movie marathon).

Superb nutrition- Hopefully your nutrition has been fairly “clean” throughout your cycle, but if not, use your spare time opened up by your decreased training schedule to cook some of your favorite and most nutritious dishes.  This is not the time to cut significant calories as this could lead to feeling sluggish on race day.

Sport Massage/Chiropractic Care- If this is part of your usual routine, stick to it.  Try to schedule your appointment no closer than three days prior to your goal race, to allow your body time to adjust and heal.   If you have never had this form of treatment, now is not the time to try something new.  Save it for your next training cycle!

Reviewing your training log If you don’t keep a training log, start now!  If you do, now is the time to go back and read your top 5-10 workouts or training runs.  Take note of your tone and any other cues that could be useful on race day.  Perhaps you used a mantra (ex. “Strong and Smooth as Steel”) during mile repeats a month ago that really worked and you think might help you again come race day.

Tapering is not…

  • Unstructured
  • Unscheduled
  • Lackadaisical
  • Half-hearted
  • A time for major adjustments
  • A time to test your fitness
  • A time to cut calories

About the Author: Chantelle Wilder is the Senior Editor and Co-Founder of Runners Feed. She also competes for the New Balance Silicon Valley Club in the Bay Area of California. When she isn’t running, or editing she can be found enjoying the fruitful wines of nearby Napa Valley while challenging her husband to a game of Bananagrams®.

Follow Chantelle: @chanty_marie

Author: Chantelle

Chantelle is a member of the New Balance Silicon Valley racing team and a proud lululemon athletica run ambassador. Chantelle earned herself a scholarship at The University of Hawaii where she went on to captain the Cross Country and Track & Field Teams. A few months after graduating and getting married to her biggest fan, Chantelle qualified to compete for CANADA at the 2009 World Cross Country Championships. In the spring of 2010 she placed 5th at the Canadian Half Marathon Championships in her debut race at this distance and in the spring of 2011 ran a time of 1:16 at The NYC Half Marathon. She is currently coaching at Santa Clara University in California and preparing for her marathon debut in Chicago.

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