Tapering: What is it and How to do it?
Taper, or tapering, is the process of lowering training volume in the lead up to a competition or race, in order to ensure you are at your peak performance level come event day. Your body needs time to recover from all the strenuous training it’s been put through for the last few months! However, it’s a fine line between allowing muscles to recover and doing too little for too long that your aerobic fitness suffers.
Tapering techniques can vary for each sport, but today, to keep things as simple as possible, we’ll run through the tapering progress for the lead-up to a marathon. Tapering methods are a long way from being a settled issue. Advice from experts varies greatly; from one Olympic marathoner believing that you should run 80% of your normal training volume at 3 weeks out, 60% two weeks out and 30% the week before, to other experts advising nothing more than a drastic one-week cutback. The suggestions given here therefore, are somewhere in between the two extremes.
It’s All Relative
Tapering clearly varies from person to person; an elite runner’s taper may well entail twice the amount of running that a novice marathoner’s peak training weeks. So, if you indeed are new to marathon running, don’t let that phase you; it’s reducing the volume of your training, no one else’s. If you’re a 50-mile-a-weeker, your mileage in the three weeks before your marathon would be roughly 40, 30 and 25. If you’re a 100-mile-a-week type, you may be looking at 80, 60 and 40. So adjust your tapering mileages accordingly, in line with your weekly running totals.
A Mind Game
Easing off the throttle in the final few days and weeks before your event can sound like a god-send on the surface, however, particularly for elite runners with high weekly running totals, it can actually be one of the hardest challenges of all. Not only is it crucial to cut down your total distances each week, but you also have to cut back on the intensity of your runs. Two factors come into play here that make this a tad more challenging than it sounds; not only are you beginning to feel fresher and stronger as the physical benefits of the rest period come into play, but as the race draws ever closer, the guilt of running less each week can make you want to run even faster in your tapering training to make up for it!
Keep yourself occupied
It is indeed vital at this stage to ensure that the intensity of your training is lowered at the same time as the volume, remember, you’re trying to let your body repair itself from the torture you’ve been putting it through! This can be a real Catch-22 situation, and therefore, it may be helpful to have something to occupy your mind with in the final few weeks before your race. Probably not the best idea to launch headfirst into an intense work project, but perhaps try reading a book or watching a new series you’ve been meaning to see? Yes, we’re giving you permission to binge-watch a T.V. series, you’re welcome. It sounds like very elementary advice, but given that running is a great way to relieve stress, stress can build up if you want to run further/faster but can’t. So, it’s back to basics here, find something to keep you occupied and relaxed.
To conclude, tapering can be tougher (mentally) than it may seem, put persist and you’ll be at your maximum potential on race day! Of course, tapering methods vary from sport to sport, so if you’re doing an Ironman or a long cycling or swimming event, it’s best to conduct your own sport-specific research into tapering, or even contact an online coach to help you out!