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Race Tapering

marathon race taper tapering running focus

written by runnergirl training

The T-word can make many runners shake in their running shoes. Tapering is sometimes a mental and physical challenge for runners. We are adept at pushing ourselves to the limit. The tables turn when it is time to back before a race. See more below!

Tapering can be a balancing act to walk (or run) that fine line of maintaining your fitness level and allowing for overall rest and recovery. If you are racing multiple times a year you will need to select which races you will taper for & which ones you will train through. If you are racing a marathon but want to run a 15k race 3 weeks prior, clearly you will be reducing mileage for the half and not tapering for the 15k.

A taper allows your body to reach peak conditioning and then rest and recover in the short duration leading up to race day. You are maintaining and coasting in on that fitness level right up to the starting line. The body needs recovery time to perform its best at the race. Tapering also prevents overuse injuries right before the big day.

Going through a training program, the focus is that all of the training volume and intensity will build up to the race. Each week or month is increasingly challenging to prepare for the necessary level of conditioning. Conversely, the focus of tapering is not to continue to build fitness but to capture that conditioning level and hold it until the race. That allows the body to have peak conditioning and rest to give 100% effort for racing.

The top main purposes of tapering are to rebuild muscle, maintain mental & physical conditioning levels & allow the body to be rested for the race. The length of a taper varies based race length. A common taper chart is:

Taper Length                                                Race Length
7-14 days                                                       5k-15k
10-14 days                                                    10 mile-30k
14-21 days                                                    marathon

A key component of tapering is to reduce the mileage yet maintain intensity. When significantly dropping the mileage the body will feel less fatigued and stale. Intensity is still able to be maintained through 1-2 challenging workouts a week. For example, a track workout, speed run & quick feet drills can assist in maintaining intensity. Other runs should be less intense than the speed work and also kept to short mileage. Focus on keeping those runs easy.

Often runners will be concerned about weight gaining during a taper. Some may even reduce calories or significantly stop eating carbohydrates. Since the concept behind tapering is to allow the body to rebuild and recover this is not the time to reduce calories or carbohydrates. Resist the urge to diet and also to over-indulge as a reward for months and weeks of diligent work. Try to focus on a consistently balanced diet.

Tapering is known for causing runners to go stir-crazy since mileage is reduced. Keep busy. Don’t add in extra training volume in the gym. Spend some time on other things in your life that were neglected during the high mileage portion of training. During the last few days before the race allow yourself a “shake out” very easy run to reduce the mental tension and keep muscles loose.

Sample Tapering Schedules

15k Race – 2 Weeks Taper:
2 weeks out:
Sun: 5k race pace
Mon: cross-training workout 30 min
Tues: track work, speed work at or above 5k race pace
Wed: rest day
Thurs: 40 min east run
Fri: 7 mile tempo run
Sat: rest day

1 week out (race week):
Sun: speed drills & 2 miles LSD (long slow distance) pace
Mon: 30 min temp run
Wed: rest day
Thurs: cross-training workout 30 min
Fri: rest day
Sat/Sun: race day

Marathon – 3 Weeks Taper
3 weeks out:
Sun: 45 min easy run
Mon: cross-training workout 1 hour
Tues: 8 miles easy run
Wed: track workout, speed workout at or above 5k race pace
Thurs: 5 miles easy
Fri: 4 miles easy
Sat: 11 miles LSD (long slow distance) pace

2 weeks out:
Sun: rest day
Mon: cross-training workout 45 min
Tues: track workout, speed workout at or above 5k race pace
Wed: rest day
Thurs: 8 miles easy
Fri: rest day
Sat: cross-training workout for 45 min

1 week out (race week):
Sun: rest day
Mon: 4 miles easy
Wed: rest day
Thurs: cross-training workout for 45 min
Fri: rest day
Sat: rest day (possible shake out 2-3 mile run)
Sun: race day


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