All set for that big race you’ve spent the last few months training for? It won’t come as a surprise to you that what you do in the last few weeks before you hit the start line will make a huge difference to how you reach the finish line. But you might be interested to know that what you DON’T do in those last few weeks is just as important.
The last few days or weeks before a key race isn’t about cramming in as many runs as you can. You need to carefully control the amount of training you do so that you balance maintaining your level of fitness with getting enough recovery to race to the best of your abilities – whether that’s reaching the finish line in one piece or recording a new personal best.
For anyone new to racing, the idea of tapering can be strange and cutting down on your running can be surprisingly difficult. You might feel restless, heavy-legged, and dying to lace up your trainers – a weird sensation when you spent months convincing yourself to go out running in the first place. But the science behind tapering is solid.
To become fitter, you need to break down your body slightly in training; in between runs, it repairs itself and adapts to the training, and it’s this that makes you stronger over time. So when you train over a period of weeks for a race, you’re gradually building fitness that won’t be lost over a couple of weeks of easier training – instead you’ll be conserving energy for your race, maintaining your peak level of fitness, and avoiding any risk of injury or illness that might come from pushing yourself any further. Of course, you need to be sensible during the taper period. You need to eat well, rest well and maintain a minimum level of running to keep your body ticking over. The amount of training you do and how long your taper is depends on several factors.
The most important factor when you’re working out how to train during your taper is how much running you’ve been doing in the past few months. Generally speaking, the more miles you’ve run and the harder you’ve run them, the longer your taper needs to be to make sure you’ve properly recovered.
Tapering is much more important for longer races, too – particularly marathons. Leave out turning down training before a 26.2-miler and you’ll start the race tired, even if you don’t necessarily feel it on the start line. However, for every race you do, as long as you’ve trained well you should cut down slightly before the big event – even if it’s just for a day or two beforehand.
The final factor affecting your taper outline is how long you’ve been running for. The more experienced you are, the more recovery you’ll need (and the less likely it is that your fitness base will drop off during the down-time).
Take a look at our plans below to see which one suits you…