You know how last night I discussed pathetic excuses v. legitimate excuses? I forgot one really good legitimate excuse for dialing back on workouts: the taper!
A taper is a period of time in which you reduce intensity, volume, or intensity and volume of exercise immediately before a race. There are no hard and fast rules of how long to taper for certain distances, but generally, the marathon taper lasts two weeks. I’ve read that Ironman tapers may be as long as a month. Now, don’t be mistaken – this doesn’t mean you skip all exercise for two weeks or a month. It just means you cut back.
The purpose of the taper is to allow your body to rest and recover so it’s primed for a hard workout during the race. If you go into a race sore, it’s absolutely miserable. I’ve made that mistake a few times, hoping that ‘one last hard workout’ will really make a difference. But I’ve finally learned my lesson. Tapers are so important – rest is just as pivotal to training as sweating! The taper allows you to perform at your best. It’s so disappointing to start running and realize your legs feel like dead weights or begin to swim and notice that your shoulders are already tired.
How you cut back depends on the race distance, the quality of your training, your age, your fitness level, and how quickly you recover from workouts. Like I said – there aren’t hard rules regarding tapers.
I usually follow the following tapers:
5K: Exercise as normal for week of event, make workout two days before event an easy one, and take day before off.
10K: Same as a 5K.
15K or Half: Reduce mileage and intensity week before event and take two – three days off before race.
Marathon: Reduce mileage and intensity for two weeks prior to event (I did a three week taper before my first race due to a trip to Europe and it was far too long) and take three days off before race.
For sprint triathlons, I take two days off before the race, and for Olympics, I follow the same taper as I would for a Half Marathon.
I’ll admit, my training for this weekend’s sprint triathlon has been… ah… lackluster. I’ve done a handful of bricks (double workouts) and been good about swimming and running, but I’m pretty much going to phone in most of the race and just have fun. However, I currently get really sore after all of my workouts – even the easy ones – because I’m just getting back into shape. I’m sore from yesterday’s run! So a decent taper is definitely required.
Therefore… let the taper time begin. I foresee a few hours of television in my future.
How do you taper for races? I think tapers are not only beneficial physically, but mentally, too – it’s nice to have a break.