As a runner training for a competitive race, it’s important to follow a tried-and-tested routine that brings out your best performance on race day. This includes training consistently at your goal pace at the given distance for several months in advance, while maintaining your overall nutrition and fitness levels. Closer to the race date, however, is when you need to scale back and cut down on your training. Yes, you read that right. Several studies vouch for the fact that reducing your hours on the track a week or 10 days before your half marathon actually leads to a better performance. This is known as taper or tapering, and it forms as integral a part of marathon training as your long-distance running sessions.
It is understandable that those who are preparing for their first running event and are caught up in the intensity of their workouts will naturally recoil at the idea of cutting down their training. The reasoning is both simple and scientific. Training for your half marathon or 10K brings several long-term improvements to your form but also cause fatigue and exhaustion. A well-balanced taper finds a balance between extreme training and recovery periods, allowing both your mind and body to replenish and recharge before an important race. Among other things, tapering helps bolster muscle power, increase muscle glycogen, muscle repair, fine-tune the neural network so that it’s working the most efficiently, and most importantly, eliminate the risk of overtraining which can slow the athlete down the most. So, how can you effectively taper before your upcoming half marathon? We have some pointers.
1. Length of the taper: The duration of your tapering should ideally follow the race you’re training for. The longer and more intense the race, the longer will be your recovery period. For a half marathon, the tapering period lasts anywhere between 12 – 15 days before race day. The balance is important and will depend on how intense your training is. Too short a taper will leave you tired on race day, while tapering for too long will lead to a loss of fitness. Many experienced half marathoners may only taper for a week, but for a newbie, a longer taper proves more beneficial.
2. Mileage and distance: Tapering, at least in the initial week, does not mean that you stop running altogether. The key is to cut down your workout in terms of time and distance, rather than intensity. Do your last stretch of long-distance training two weeks before the race, and proceed to cut down the volume and intensity of your workout about 40 – 50%. So if you’ve been training for two hour runs, cut that down to an hour. If you’ve been running 10K on your daily runs, bring it down to 6K or lesser. Most importantly, don’t feel guilty about the cutbacks – it is still a part of your training.
3. Maintain intensity: Drop the distance, not the attitude. To maintain your optimal fitness levels before the race, it’s vital that you keep training at the same level of intensity or higher. If your training includes intervals and tempo runs, continue them through your taper period at a lesser duration. This is also a great time to test out your race-day gear to make sure that everything is in good working condition and complements your run.
4. Reward yourself: Most runners have a hard time keeping their mind off their runs even when they’re not running. The sudden drop in your activity levels might leave you feeling anxious and restless, but it’s important to have faith and resist the urge to go back to your early training days. A week before the race, pick up activities that de-stress you and relax your mind, while at the same time, do not impact your running muscles. Swimming and yoga are some popular choices. With 72 hours to go, stop training completely, and allow your body to top up its glycogen reserves for race day. Instead, concentrate on eating well, getting enough sleep and listing out all that you need for the race.