Coaches Corner: Tapering for Your Event

by Dick Vincent

Many of you have been preparing to run a key race late this spring and much of the training is in the bank.  Your training has gone well but the final weeks leading up to the race are often a point of concern. How much do you run? How fast do you run? For many the thought is “it’s taper time and that means rest”. Well, maybe not.

Taking it too easy and cutting your training back too much is a recipe for disaster. Keep in mind that you are not preparing to go into hibernation, you are preparing to race. You are readying yourself for “game on” race day. It is difficult to spend two weeks on the couch eating bonbons and jump off race day and expect the engine to hit on all cylinders. You want to bring that continuation of good routine right into your event.

Keep your routine similar to what you do when you are in your training cycle. If you are running 6 days a week don’t suddenly begin running 3 days a week. If you go to the track or do quality workouts, continue doing so.  You will taper down the volume but you will continue with the intensity and in some cases even increase it.  Don’t attack your final workouts as if they are a do or die race, putting in the superior physical and mental efforts, but as you taper down some and your legs come to life, run with focus. Don’t race your workouts but do run them with intent.

How much someone “tapers’’ depends on the individual. Many runners/coaches like a two week taper, some like a three week.  Peter Phitzinger, a two time Olympian at the marathon and first American to finish in both of those races, suggests a 3-week taper.  Phitzy tapered by reducing his overall mileage 3 weeks before to 80% of normal. Two weeks out he reduced it to 60% of normal, and the 6 days prior to the race (not a full 7 days) he suggests running 40% of normal mileage.  Greg McMillian likes a two-week taper and his athletes taper by reducing minutes run for each day rather than miles run.  Two weeks out Greg has his athletes reduce workouts by 10-20 minutes. The week of the race that number is 20-30 minutes per workout.

REMEMBER you are preparing to race not hibernate.  Don’t be stuffing yourself with all the food you can in the days leading up to the event.  It is important that you eat well but eat properly. A bear or a groundhog may want to pack on the pounds before a long winter’s snooze but you want to stay trim and ready to perform at your best.  Eat familiar foods, eat well, but eat responsibly.  Steer clear of foods you aren’t accustomed to eating. This is no time to experiment with Joe Brown’s Jailhouse Chili or try out the new exotic restaurant that’s causing all the ambulance traffic in the area.

The last few days counting down to the race, when there isn’t much left to do but worry, don’t fall victim to a Taper Tantrum.  Stay positive by following the process.  Don’t obsess about failing or that little twinge of tenderness in a calf. Think about that mind set you have when you are running well. The boogieman always shows up in the final week so ignore him. All that stressing will steal precious energy you will need to use during your race. You have done the work and now try to enjoy the final days. That is just as important (and as hard) as doing all of the workouts. It is part of being an athlete. All of the worrying in the world never won a horse race after the bets have been placed. Look forward to your day and make the best of what the day gives you. Good luck!

Dick Vincent

USATF/I.A.A.F Level 3/5 Certified Coach


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