Getting fit and fast is not the only factor to guarantee a successful race day. Correct training will ensure you peak at the right time, which is on the day of your event, and correct tapering will ensure you arrive fully recovered on race day. Peaking and tapering requires a fine balance between ensuring full recovery while maintaining performance adaptations.
What is a taper?
The taper is the period of reduced training volume prior to a major event.
What is the goal of tapering?
The goal of tapering is to ensure that you are sufficiently rested and optimally fueled. Running training causes muscle damage, fatigue and also depletes carbohydrate stores within the muscle. This taper period allows the body to fully recover and maximise carbohydrate stores, without compromising fitness, so that peak performance can be achieved during an important race.
Incorrect tapering, along with over-training, is the best way to ruin your race day! It can lead to injury, fatigue and lowered performance on race day.
When and how should you taper?
Depending on the length of the event, your taper will vary. For long events such as marathons and ultra marathons, the taper is usually around 2-3 weeks. For a half marathon, 7-10days is usually sufficient.
During the taper, you should significantly reduce your mileage but maintain the intensity of your training. This gives your body more time for rest and repair, but continues to maintain your fitness level. The quantity of training is reduced, not the quality! A good guideline is to reduce your weekly training mileage by 25%, 2 weeks prior to the event, and by 50% in the final week.
Massage is another tool which many athletes use to aid in the recovery process. If you are accustomed to receiving massages, then you can book some during this period, but I would not suggest having a massage too close to race day as this can leave you feeling rather sluggish and lethargic. Try to book your final massage at least 4 days before the race. If you have never had a massage or do not have them regularly, I would not recommend you have one in the week before the event, as you don’t know how your body will respond.
It is also not recommended to have a complete rest day the day before your event, rather have your rest day 2-3 days before your event and ensure that you do a short run with a couple of pick-ups the day before. Including these short sprints will ensure optimal muscle firing and recruitment.
Individuals also respond differently to tapering, so it is important to figure out what works for you. Remember these are merely guidelines based on research, but it is best to find out what works best for you.
REMEMBER – NOT ENOUGH TAPER AND YOU WILL RACE TIRED, TOO MUCH TAPER AND YOU WILL RACE SUB-PEAK
Example of a taper for Two Oceans 21km.
- 800m and 400m repeats should be run at 10km race pace and preferably on grass!
Be careful what you eat
- Continue to follow your usual healthy, balanced training diet. This together with tapering will be sufficient to maximise muscle glycogen stores for a 21km event.
- Be sure not to skip meals or snacks on the days leading up to the event
- Take extra care with food hygiene. Choose well cooked protein and avoid raw fish & shellfish (e.g. sushi or oysters) as well as undercooked meat and eggs (e.g. burgers)
- Stick with foods you know you tolerate – don’t try anything new or risky
- Avoid junk food if you can help it
- Reduce alcohol intake in the week leading up to the race and ideally avoid alcohol in the 24 hours before the race
About the author:
Voted Men’s Health’s Top Local Coach in 2014, Richard Woolrich is a titan of the SA endurance training scene. Specializing in programme prescription for endurance athletes Rich’s tour de force was winning both the SA and African Elite Triathlete Championships in 2002. Find him on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.