Tapering is important during the last few weeks of your training programme as it allows your body to recover so that you are ready to perform come race day. You may have picked up a slight niggle, you may not have gone as far as you planned on your last run - it started to rain, you didn't have your favourite running socks on - and you think you still have enough time to squeeze in one final long training run. Don't! However far you ran, you have now done all the long runs you can and it's time to start tapering.
Why should I taper?
Your training will have caused a small amount of muscle damage. Therefore there is a risk of your legs giving out before the end of the race. By cutting down on your training near to race day, particularly long runs and speed sessions you will arrive at your start line with fresh legs.
When you have been training for a prolonged period of time you are likely to suffer from both physical and mental fatigue. Tapering will five you time to rest. As a rule of thumb, the longer you have been training for the longer you'll need to taper for in order to recover. Everyone's taper period will be a different length of time.
How long should I taper for?
This all depends on how long your body needs to recover. Usually a 3 week taper period is recommended.
3 weeks to go:
Reduce your weekly mileage by 15%. For example if you are running 50 miles per week, you need to cut our around 7 miles from your weekly running routine. This can easily be done by adding an extra rest day or by cutting down the miles on your regular runs. You can still keep a longer run in your training plan on this week.
2 weeks to go:
Reduce your weekly mileage once again to around 35 miles in total. There should be no long run this week and less intense workouts. At this point you can't gain anymore fitness but you can be at risk of tiring yourself out. If you are feeling fatigued don't be afraid to reduce your milage and opt for a shorter distance.
1 week to go:
Race week takes discipline and confidence that you are ready. Give yourself an extra rest day. A short run of 1-5km the day before your race at an easy pace will help promote the blood flow in your legs and stimulate your central nervous system, which will enable you legs to respond better on the morning of the race.
Common tapering mistakes
When tapering you can often experience what is known as 'frisky legs'. During your tapering you may start to feel the effects of taking it easier. Your legs will be feeling freshers and as a result could seduce you into running faster on your daily runs than you should. If this is the case be sure to keep your mileage totals moderate. Also, try running with someone who is slower than you or on a treadmill where you can set the belt speed at a lower pace.
Tapering is a mind game
Easing off during your last few weeks of training may seem appealing but some find it extremely difficult. After all your training you have earned the privilege of a few weeks of rest but, for some cutting back on training is just as hard if not harder than the challenge of long runs. Reasons for this can be that you are stressed or simply nervous about race day and your previous way of ridding this thoughts was running. It is helpful to have something to occupy your mind during the taper period. Be this all the dreaded course reading you have been putting off or starting a brand new Netflix series.