The last few weeks leading up to a race bring a mix of so many emotions. Runners experience everything from excitement, to nerves, anxiety, giddiness and so much more. All of these emotions combined with less mileage means runners have even more time to sit and obsess about the race. As race day approaches, it’s important to know how to correctly taper before a race.
After months of training, the last thing any runner wants to do is make a mistake during the last few weeks and ruin race day. All of the mileage and hard work put in during training could easily be ruined if runners fail to taper, or taper incorrectly.
Learning how to taper will help you come up with a strategy for the last few weeks of training. While every runner responds differently to a certain amount of mileage, there are a few guidelines you should follow when designing your taper leading up to a race.
How to Taper Before a Race
What it Means to Taper
The term taper refers to the reduction in running mileage that usually occurs leading up to the race. The idea is that reducing your mileage a few weeks before a race allows your body some extra time to recover from all the training, so you’ll head into race day with fresh, well rested legs.
Related: Taper Tips and Race Week Tricks
When to Reduce Mileage Before a Race
Begin to reduce your mileage 2-3 weeks before your race – right after peak week ends. For longer distance races, like marathons and half marathons, taper should begin about 3 weeks prior to race day. For shorter distances, like a 5k or 10k race, begin cutting back mileage about 1-2 weeks before race day.
>>Check out all of the Runnin’ for Sweets marathon training plans here for a guided taper!<<
If you are following a training plan, most peak weeks occur about 4 weeks out from the race. This means that you’ll have your highest mileage week and longest long run about 4 weeks before race day. Peak week is a helpful milestone in any training plan to determine when taper should begin. Once you’ve completed your peak mileage, begin to reduce weekly mileage each week before the race.
How Much to Reduce Your Mileage
The idea of a gradual taper means that when taper begins, you will cut your mileage back just slightly, and continue to gradually reduce it until you are running your lowest mileage the week before the race.
About 3 weeks before the race, cut your mileage down by 10%. Reduce mileage even more two weeks before race day (anywhere from 20-30% less mileage). During race week, decrease your mileage by at least 40%, so you are running no more than 60% of your regular training volume.
Guidelines for Cross and Strength Training During Taper
Of course, training for a race – no matter how big or small – involves so much more than just running. If you’ve been preparing for an upcoming race for any length of time, you’ve likely completed your fair share of cross training and strength training workouts.
When you taper before a race, these workouts will likely still make an appearance in your training plan. It’s okay to continue cross training and strength training workouts during the few weeks leading up to a race, but make sure to reduce their intensity as well.
You should reduce the intensity of cross and strength training workouts two weeks before a race, and avoid them all together during race week. Yoga and other similar gentle activities are great ways to mix up your workouts leading up to the race. Be sure to avoid any strength training or cross training workouts that will leave you feeling sore or tired. The goal is to keep your legs and body fresh for race day.
Extra Activities to Increase the Effects of Taper
While training, you’ve likely been aware of your hydration, nutrition, recovery and sleep – but these activities are even more important during taper. In the weeks that you taper before a race, make sure you are extra conscious of your recovery and health.
Staying properly hydrated in the last few weeks of training will not only help your body feel fresh on race day, but it will help you remain healthy and sleep well. This is also the time to pay special attention to your nutrition – make a point to fill your body with wholesome, nutritious foods (and don’t forget to carb load before the race)!
It is especially important to spend time recovering during taper, and running lower mileage provides the perfect opportunity to do so. Use the extra time to stretch, do some recovery yoga, or foam roll. Designating time to do so helps fight off any unwanted injuries by keeping your legs fresh and muscles relaxed.
Make sure you are getting a full night’s sleep every single night. Heading into race day feeling tired and lethargic means that your body has missed out on crucial recovery time and may not be able to perform at its peak.
Similarly, take your rest days seriously. Now is not the time to try to make up a missed workout on a rest day, or add in a few extra workouts because you’re feeling strong. Take rest days completely off knowing that it is the best thing you can do during taper.
What to Look Forward to During Taper
So many runners dread taper knowing that the last few weeks are filled with nerves and anxiety. But you don’t have to! Making it to taper means that you have completed all of the hard work. All those long runs and hard workouts are officially behind you, and you can begin to prepare for race day.
The last few weeks of any training plan are filled with shorter workouts, providing you with extra time to relax and prepare for the race. Enjoy those extra minutes and hours each day knowing that you have earned them.
Spend time reading race recaps, planning race weekend, researching race day logistics, and getting yourself excited for the race. You have almost made it to the start line, and that alone is an accomplishment worth celebrating.
And of course, don’t forget to carb load. Reward yourself during race week with a few extra pasta dishes, bread or dessert to make sure you are fully stocked on race morning. These treats are guilt free – and necessary!
If you’ve made it to the last few weeks of training – congratulations! Now is the time to get excited. Race day is just around the corner, and all of the hard work is behind you. All you can do now is prepare for race day and allow your body to recover.
Using the extra time to focus on recovery, race logistics and fuel while you taper before a race will set you up for success. Enjoy these last few weeks of training knowing that you are prepared and ready for your best race ever.