Tapering is often a misunderstood concept.
Racing fast necessitates a taper — you need to be well-rested and primed for speed to nab that new personal best!
Tapering means to reduce or diminish gradually. When you apply this to running, it means you are progressively diminishing workload as race day approaches. Most important, tapering is always race specific — meaning the ideal taper to produce your best 5K looks nothing like the taper for your fastest marathon.
Tapering well is most essential when you are training for a goal race with a specific time or effort in mind. If you are running a race as a workout, tapering is less important.
GENERAL TAPER PRINCIPLES
Let’s address some of the general concepts of tapering before examining those that are race specific. Allow about 7–14 days between your final hard workout and race day. Your body takes about that time to fully recover and benefit from an intense workout.
REDUCE VOLUME …
While a marathon taper may begin as early as 2–3 weeks prior to race day, a 5K or 10K taper requires no more than 7–10 days. The concept is simple: Reduce the volume of work so your legs feel fresh and strong on race day.
… BUT DO MAINTAIN SOME INTENSITY
Even though you reduce your overall volume, keep a moderate amount of intensity in your workouts to avoid feeling flat on race day. Tapering is always a balancing act and you want to strive to be like Goldilocks with your workout intensity: not too much, not too little, but just right!
RUN A SIMILAR NUMBER OF DAYS
Rather than taking extra days off during your taper, it’s better to reduce the volume on the days you usually run. If you’re used to running 5–6 days each week, stick with that. Just reduce the length of each run slightly.
ADD EXTRA REST IF NEEDED
While maintaining your weekly schedule is ideal if you’re healthy and injury free, certain situations call for additional rest. If you’re struggling with soreness, mild pain or illness, an extra day off during your taper may help.
DURING YOUR TAPER
FOCUS ON NUTRITION
Try to eat the healthiest version of your own diet, focusing on whole foods and high quality carbohydrates. Don’t make dramatic changes in the weeks or days prior to your race.
PAY ATTENTION TO RECOVERY
Since you have some extra time, use it to focus on recovery. Get plenty of sleep and invest a little extra time doing mobility work and foam rolling.
PREPARE YOURSELF MENTALLY
Mental preparation for races is often overlooked, especially during the time crunch of heavy training. Use the extra time to plan your strategy and visualize your race. Consider how you’ll address challenging situations as they arise, and picture yourself finishing strong.
5K AND 10K TAPER SPECIFICS
Tapering for a 5K or 10K goal race requires less time than a marathon taper; that makes it even more essential to execute correctly!
Tapering for a 5K and 10K requires a different type of strategy since you want to maintain or improve the muscle tension or “pop” in your legs. Strategically encouraging the muscles in your legs to contract more quickly and generate more force allows you to race your fastest.
TWO WEEKS OUT
This is when you should run your most challenging, race-specific workout. This varies depending on your training, but a 5K runner might do 3 x 1 mile intervals at race pace, while a 10K specialist might do 6 x 1 mile or 3 x 2 miles. Allow yourself at least 10–12 days between this workout and your race.
During this week, start to reduce your volume slightly as well. Shorten your easy runs by approximately 10–20 minutes depending on their typical length.
Shorten your long run this week by approximately 25%. If you usually run 12 miles, cut it back to 9. This cutback may vary slightly depending on your experience level, but you don’t need to run any longer than about 10 miles a week before your goal race.
To maintain some intensity, you’ll want to complete a workout this week about 5 days prior to your race. This should be a shortened version of what you did last week. Those 10K runners could do 4 x 1000m repeats or 3 x 1 mile, while 5K runners could do 4 x 800m or 8 x 400m at race pace.
Maintaining specificity is key. Run your workout at your goal pace, not slower or faster, no matter how good you may feel. Now is the time to dial in your pace.
Shorten your easy runs by about 50% this week and finish two of them with a set of 4–6 strides to help keep muscle tension high.
Other ways to help feel fresh this week could include less time on your feet, more sleep, going even slower on your easy days and focusing on nutrition and hydration.
It’s finally here! Know that you have set yourself up for a great race with a smart, well-executed taper strategy.
On race day, allow yourself plenty of time to arrive and warm up so you’re not stressed. After a short, dynamic warmup routine, run some easy laps to loosen up and finish with a few strides.
Allow yourself enough time that you don’t have to rush to the start line, but don’t allow so much that you start to cool down. Once you head to the starting line, it’s time to focus, execute your strategy and nail that PR!