The Importance of Tapering
Anticipation is building as race day gets closer. As a Redcliffe resident, I love seeing the community gearing up for race day, our local running club distributing traffic flyers, upcoming road closure signs starting to appear and PT’s doing their last long runs with their crew .
And this brings your training to ‘Taper-time’! Many of my runners tell me how much they love the taper as it represents the end of the hard work and more time to rest. This is true, but it is also one of the most important parts of your race preparation.
So, what is tapering? And why do it?
Tapering gives your body and mind the opportunity to recover from all the hard training you’ve done and to get prepared for race day. There are various proposed benefits of taper including replenishing glycogen stores in the muscles, muscle repair and reduced fatigue. The main goal of taper is to get you to the start line fully rested and ready for a great run!
The length of your taper depends on many factors, including how long you’ve been running and the distance of the race. Generally a taper period can be anywhere from 10 days to 3 weeks before race day and for first time half marathoners, I usually recommend 2-3 weeks.
A good taper can get you to the start line feeling fantastic and bursting with energy. Here are my top tips for making the most of your taper.
Gradually reduce your mileage over the taper period:
This is the key to tapering effectively. A general guideline is to decrease your overall mileage by 15-20% per week.
Maintain the intensity of your key workouts:
The idea is to maintain the intensity, rather than increasing it. Your taper workouts should also be specific to the type of running you will be doing on race day. This means that there is probably limited value in doing sprints for a half marathon but instead you might consider incorporating some race pace running into 2-3 of your runs per week. A great way to do this is to do one run per week at your intended half marathon race pace and then the last 4-5km of your long run at your intended race pace or a little faster.
Save your extra energy:
As the taper progresses, it is very common to feel energised and in need of extra energy outlets. If you feel like you have more time on your hands, it can be tempting to try that new yoga or spin class you’ve been looking at for ages. You may also have some runs where you feel fantastic and want to run a bit further or faster than planned in your program. Resist the temptation! All that great energy will be put to good use on race day, so save it up until then.
Get a massage:
It’s a great idea to get a massage (or two) to reward your muscles for all their hard work. This can be done any time during the taper but preferably no later than 4-5 days prior to race day.
If you have niggles or become unwell – get checked early
You will often hear long distance runners talk of ‘phantom’ niggles and getting ill as soon as they start their taper. This can cause a lot of worry and distress if you’ve been training for months and your race is imminent. There are a few things you can do to reduce the chance of these things happening and also to reduce your stress levels if they do happen.
1. Get a niggle checked immediately so you can get a strategy in place. It may be just a niggle but you will be much more confident on race day if you’ve had the time to try strapping options, do some extra strengthening and test it out on a few runs.
2. Stick to the taper guidelines above. Following a well designed taper helps to avoid any large training variations which could lead to illness and injury.
3. Rest if you need to. It is very common to get a cold or ‘bug’ during taper. If this happens, don’t panic! As with any other training, listen to your body and rest as much as you need to. It’s important to remember that at this stage you will gain or lose very little fitness before race day. The most important goal is to arrive at the start line well-rested and healthy.
As I write this, I’m finalising my team from Scarborough Physio & Health. We will be there on race day to meet you and to help you with any last minute concerns. One of our physios will be joining you on the road, running his first half marathon. It’s getting exciting!
Enjoy your taper. See you all on race day!
Shena has been a running Physio for 10 years with a special interest in run technique analysis. Her passion is helping new runners and keeping runners injury free. When she’s not helping people get back to their running, you’ll find Shena enjoying the waterfront and trails around the Moreton Bay Region. You can contact Shena at shena_h @ hotmail.com.