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The Art of Tapering: Preparing for a Race like a Pro

Warm-Up-And-Cool-Down

As the adrenaline surges and the race day draws near, it’s common to feel the impulse to push harder, run faster, and squeeze in just a few more high-intensity sessions. But hold those laces right there, my running friend. It’s time we talked about the lesser-known but game-changing strategy employed by pros across the globe – the art of tapering.

So, What Exactly is Tapering?

In the simplest terms, tapering is the deliberate reduction of training load – volume, intensity, or both – for a certain period before a big race. It’s like the calm before the storm, where the storm is your upcoming race, and the calm is a period of reduced activity designed to prepare your body to perform at its peak.

If you’re imagining lounging around on the couch, popping bonbons, and catching up on your favorite Netflix shows, we’re afraid that’s not quite right. Tapering isn’t about stopping training; it’s about strategically slowing down. Think less “race car idling in the pits” and more “quietly building up to a roaring crescendo.”

The Importance of Tapering: Why Bother?

At its core, tapering is about balance. It’s the careful art of maintaining fitness while reducing fatigue. The benefits are multiple and significant. They include replenished glycogen stores, repaired muscle tissue, and a rested and refreshed mental state. In essence, tapering primes your body and mind to be race-ready.

Science backs this up. Numerous studies have shown that athletes who taper effectively can improve their performance by 2-3% – and in a competitive race, that could be the difference between a personal best and a disappointing day.

Example of the stretches that help prevent DOMS.

How to Master the Art of Tapering

The specifics of tapering can vary based on factors like the race distance, your training load, and your personal recovery rate. However, here’s a basic blueprint you can customize to your needs:

  1. Start Early, But Not Too Early: Begin your tapering phase about two to three weeks before your race. If you’re training for a marathon, start tapering three weeks out; for a half marathon, two weeks could be enough.
  2. Gradual Reduction: Decrease your total weekly mileage by about 20-25% each week during the tapering phase.
  3. Keep the Intensity: While you’re reducing your mileage, maintain the intensity of your workouts. A few race-pace runs or short bursts of speed can help keep your body primed.
  4. Prioritize Recovery: Emphasize good sleep, healthy nutrition, and activities like stretching and foam rolling. Remember, tapering is all about recovery and preparation.

Pitfalls to Avoid When Tapering

As with any art, mastering the art of tapering comes with its own set of potential mistakes. Here are a few to avoid:

  1. Too Little, Too Late: Starting the tapering process too late or reducing your mileage too little can leave you fatigued on race day.
  2. Slamming the Brakes: On the other end of the spectrum, reducing your activity level too drastically can lead to a loss of fitness and sharpness.
  3. Falling for the ‘Taper Tantrums’: It’s common to feel jittery, restless, and even doubt your abilities during the tapering phase. Don’t let these “taper tantrums” mislead you; trust in your training and the process.

Many of us runners are wired to think ‘more is better.’ But as both a trainer and an avid runner, I can attest to the transformative power of tapering. Reducing the training load isn’t about slacking off; it’s about creating a window for your body to restore, rebuild, and peak at the right moment. Tapering is the unsung hero in a runner’s journey to their best performance. It might feel counterintuitive, but this artful slowing down is often the final, critical step in speeding up on race day. Trust in the process, trust in the rest, and watch as your race performance reaches new heights!

Coach Sarah, Certified Personal Trainer and Marathon Runner.
Stretching out her sores with yoga after a run.

As we cross the finish line of this article, remember that tapering is a skill, and like any skill, it needs practice. Approach it with the same patience, consistency, and dedication that you do with your running, and soon, you’ll be mastering the art of tapering, preparing for your races like a true pro. Happy running, and remember, the race is won long before the starting gun goes off – it’s won in the careful, purposeful preparation that gets you to the starting line at your best. You’ve got this!

Andy Barr
the authorAndy Barr
Editorial Lead
Andy was late arriving into the world of fitness, running and training. He did not really take up regular gym going until he was in his late 30's. He lost over 7 stone in weight since starting and completed an olympic length triathlon in June 2018. He enjoys playing football, boxing and outdoor running.

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