Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tapering Runs Before a Race

Two days until the Rogue Runner and all that's on my training schedule to day is a 1/2 mile hill workout, 15 burpees, kettleball swings and a rope climb. I'm tapering down my running distances ahead of the 6-mile obstacle course race this weekend because that's what a high school track coach taught me to back when I was running 5ks -- but it wasn't until I did some research on it that I learned the reasons behind the concept.

Why Taper Pre-Race Training?

As you run long distances, your muscles break down. They can become fatigued over long weeks of intense training -- training that is, of course, essential to improving running speed, endurance and cardiovascular capacity.
"Long periods of intense training actually decrease an athlete's performance capacity. Thus by reducing training duration and intensity a week or two before competition muscle tissue damage caused by intense training heals up, and the body's energy reserves replenish. Proteins enter the muscle fibers and repair the micro tears in them." ~ Roy Stevenson 
Tapering, or cutting back on the distances you run, in the days or weeks leading up to a race or athletic competition has been shown to increase peak performance. In fact, after a forced rest due to injury, New Zealand runner Rodney Dixon went on to have the best race of his career at that point, earning a bronze medal for the one-mile event. He accidentally learned the incredible value of cutting back on mileage instead of continuing to over-train before the Olympics.

Benefits to Muscles

 In short, tapering allows your muscles the much-need chance to rebuild and become stronger, ensuring they are ready to perform on race day. By resting, that is, running fewer miles in the week or more leading up to an important event, muscles improve their power. And when you're running uphill and through who knows what crazy obstacles, more power is good.

Other Reasons to Taper

  • Mentally, running long, intense workouts day after day can be exhausting. Take a step back by reducing mileage changes things up and help a runner to rejuvenate mentally before the big day. 
  • Prevent stress injuries and avoid possible acute injuries by running fewer miles.
  • Allow small injuries, such as blisters and sore muscles, to heal properly

How to Taper Runs Effectively

For marathon-length events, tapering begins three weeks out. For shorter race distances, two weeks of tapering is fine. Taper as little as a week before a 5k.
Cut back on your miles, but not the intensity of your runs. Keep your pace at the level where you've been training; just run fewer miles. If you're working on hills for an obstacle course race with lots of elevation changes, keep doing hill workouts. Just pull back on the distance a bit.

Run Tapering Chart for Marathons, 10 Miles, 10ks and 5ks

Race Distance
Three weeks before event
Two weeks before event
One  week before event
26.2 miles
Reduce weekly mileage by about 20%
Reduce weekly mileage by about 40%
Reduce weekly mileage by about 60%
10 miles
No change
Reduce weekly mileage by about 30%
Reduce weekly mileage by about 50%
3-6 miles
No change
Reduce weekly mileage by about 20%
Reduce weekly mileage by about 50%

When Tapering Isn't Needed

If you are running a 5k race just for tempo or for fun, there is no need to taper. If you haven't gotten up to the high mileage category, don't worry about tapering. If you are a recreational jogger putting in less than 20 miles per week, no need to taper off before an event.

Do you cut back on mileage in the weeks before an obstacle course race? Have you noticed increased benefits from doing this? 

1 comment:

  1. Hey Maria this is a very well written post, it would be good to have you join us on Tribesports. If you want to do some guest writing drop me an email -