One of the hardest parts of tapering for a race is backing off the training you have become so accustomed to doing.
The truth is, in the last 10 days to 2 weeks prior to your big race there is really little you can add to the fitness you have already gained preparing.
You can still get benefits from doing the last few workouts leading into your 5K to marathon distance but overall the impact of what you do in the last 10 days to 2 weeks will have minimal effect on your overall fitness.
It Is What You Don’t Do In The Last 10 Days To 3 Weeks That Will Count
What I mean by that is the long runs you don’t do, the long workouts which you are accustomed to doing, which you don’t do will give you the most benefit in tapering for a race of significance.
Recovery for one. Your body has adapted to running and being trained in a constant fatigued state. Allowing the body to rest is key.
Tapering for the big race means that you keep the intensity high but you drop volume.
You are now allowing the body to recover from all the hard training by decreasing the volume and keeping your intensity the same.
The intensity of your track workouts can remain the same but should also drop in volume as well.
For example, if you were doing 16x400m on the track at 70 seconds per rep with a 200m recovery the last 10 days consider doing 6x400m at 70 seconds with full recovery.
Why Tapering Is So Important
It takes approximately 21 days or 3 weeks for the body to adapt to any stress you place on it.
I say that because in the last 10 days to 2 weeks prior to your big race what you do is mainly maintenance.
You will not have the time to add to the fitness you already have.
This is where patience plays a part. You have to realize that now is the prime time to get the most bang for your buck, the most return on your training investment by doing less, not more.
I have found that a 10-day taper is best. That being said, tapering for a race is also very much individual. There are runners who may get better results from a 3-week taper, rather than a 10-day taper.
What is important is you experiment what works best for you. I have found that tapering 3 weeks out makes me feel too sluggish.
I like to keep training well until the last 10 days where I make a major transition from heavy training into very short sprints and strides with my last workout being a 5K at goal marathon race pace 4 days before my marathons.
Fundamentals Of What A Three Week Taper May Look Like For A 5K To Marathon Specialist
Week 4 – Highest volume week
Week 3- 75% of your high week but maintaining intensity in track sessions. Tempo runs are shorter but still aggresive in nature
Week 2 – 50% of highest volume week. Shorter sprints i.e. 16x400m at 5K goal race pace, now 6-8x400m at same intensity, more rest in recovery
Week 1 – 25% of highest volume week, light strides, very short track session such as 6x200m, 4x400m or short tempo at goal race pace, lower volume, lower anaerobic volume
The discipline of all your hard work comes into play during the taper phase of your training. Far too many runners think that by continuing to push the last few days leading into a race that more can be gained.
This most always is not the case. Running is a lot like an exam. You can’t cram the night before and expect to do well. If you have studied well, your mind, like the body will do the work for you.
The key is letting go of the questions. Our bodies always perform their best when we are the most relaxed. Have you ever watched Usain Bolt run the 100m or 200m? Who do you think is the most relaxed when they toe the line?
Bolt performs above standard most of the time. The hard work he has put in is never seen. The lights, glamor and attention he receives is because when it is time to race, he makes it look easy and he makes it look easy because the hardest work has been done.
He, like so many others, does not stress on the line. Everyone is different though.
If you have a routine you prefer i.e. going off somewhere quiet listening to some motivational music, away from the crowd, do so but stay relaxed, calm and collected when you toe the line.
The motivation to be relaxed while others around us are tense, stressed out and over thinking the event is crucial to a successful race.
Keep this in mind and you will be one step closer to not only running a great race but a breakthrough effort that will have those around you scratching their heads and asking the question, ‘how did they do that’?