Tapering is a common practice among endurance athletes… why?
(racing can be 'fun' when prepared for and executed well)
Essentially, tapering is a way to decrease the accumulated fatigue of training, quell any niggles, and allow you to start your race with the freshness of rest but the stamina from training.
There is some research that shows up to a 3% performance improvement… but that’s hard to measure over different distances and race types. It is worth considering that every high level endurance athlete performs some form of tapering before their important races.
There is no objective ‘best’ taper, as people are so individualized that it’s best to follow the general guidelines and see what works best FOR YOU.
Generally (big ‘generally’) a taper is 1 week (for something like a 10k or shorter) to 2/3 weeks (for marathon and longer). Cutting down 20–> 60% weekly mileage. Cut too little/short, you may still have ‘fatigue’. Cut too much/long, you may feel stale and like you lost fitness.
Personally: mine looked like this leading up to the Gorge Waterfalls 50k on 4/3/22:
After solid mileage and intensity building and training January and February, my first two weeks of March were the final training push with two big strong weeks (65 and 72 miles), including good long Sunday trail runs (22 and 24 miles).
My last two weeks of March were tapering, in which I cut down to 38 miles (10mile trail run 8 days prior to race being the last long-ish effort) and then just about 18 miles the week before the 50k.
You'll hear differing opinions about whether to only cut distance, intensity, or both. I like to maintain some intensity during the taper but cut down miles. I did keep a lighter strength training session 12 days out but skipped the week leading up to the race. The day before the race, I did a 2-3mile jog/hike on the trail, enough to break a sweat and loosen up from the 2.5 hour drive, not enough to be tired at all.
And..it served me well. On race day, I felt fresh. My legs felt like they had the second, third, (forth?) wind as the race went on; compared to the fatigue I felt in the 3rd hour of my last long training runs on tired legs.
For those new to training and running races, know that you're likely to still feel tired during your tapering, that's your body still catching up to the training you previously did. That's part of the process and the reason why you taper (so that fatigue isn't felt on race day).
Tapering is a process that you should pay attention to and adjust accordingly in the future. Play around with the length and metrics of your taper, keep in mind that most of the training is already done, and you're not likely to get any more physiological benefit from hard or long runs within 9-14 days of the race; you're more likely to tire yourself out or cause injury. "The hay is in the barn" at that point, don't burn the barn down (get injured) trying to add a bit more in.
Use your extra time and energy during the taper to take care of yourself: extra sleep, stretching, self care and mental health practices, hydration and eating well. This all help with the overall recovery process and prepare you for race day.
Then on race day, celebrate the work you have put in.
P.S. If you find yourself with race day fast approaching and you have lingering pains or injuries; contact us to find out if you would benefit from a physical therapy consult. Sometimes, a session or two with a running-experienced physical therapist is all it takes to get to race day feeling better and more confident.
-OR- if you've been training hard and injury free, but are feeling the aches and tightness of training. Consider our Recovery Sessions to help you absorb your training better and recovery quicker.