Sunday, April 06, 2008

What is a taper?

I'll see you in Boston.

This is what a taper is in a nut shell. This example comes form someone who was doing the LA Marathon.


You made it.
All the long runs, intervals and sessions on the track, and don't forget those enjoyable second runs Sunday afternoon, are now behind you. Now comes the best part of training. The Taper. Or is this the hardest part of training. A properly tailored taper can make or break your race. A taper may vary from 3 days to 3 weeks depending on the length and importance of a competition. A longer race such as a Marathon requires a longer preparation phase and will thus require a longer 2-3 week taper to be rested and ready to go on race day. A 5k usually has a slightly lesser overall workload during training and may require a taper of only 5-10 days in length. You may want to training through a particular race and in this case three days of easy training before the event may be all you need to feel rested.

During the first few days of a taper you may feel good due to the immediate decrease in training, but you will probably then feel sluggish for 2-5 days due to the change in your training (your body has to have time to adapt to increases and decreased in training). Once your body starts to recover, and catches up, you will then start to feel better and rested, anxious to race, just wanting to start the race and get it going.

The Taper is something you slowly ease into. You will not one day start to taper and automatically feel great. The basic concept is to slowly decrease the duration of training while keeping the intensity and frequency of workouts the same allowing the body and mind to rest and be prepared for that important race. Nutrition also plays a big role during a taper and how it will effect your race day performance.

The reduced duration of training sessions is the first important part of the taper. A very basic training principle, but sometimes hard to do. For a marathon you should start to cut back the duration of your training session three weeks before race day. The sessions should be reduced in duration by about 30% each week. An example of this would be your long run on Sunday the 15th of March. The previous weekend you should have run 135-150 min then on the next Sunday the 15th of March cut the long run back to 90-100min.

While decreasing the duration of the training sessions the key is to keep the intensity and frequency of workouts the same. If the intensity of runs is decreased, along with fewer runs per week, you may feel lethargic come race day. A good example of this would be the Interval session on the 16th of March. The duration of the session is decreased from 6x 5-min intervals to 6x 3-min intervals, but at the same intensity of 80-85% max heart rate. The three-minute intervals will feel much easier than the 5-min intervals and not tax your system as much. This will still keep you fresh and feeling light footed allowing you to recover quickly. You will also notice that during the week of March 16th the total number of training sessions is still six.

The nutrition during a taper is always tricky. If you start to decrease the length of your runs and keep eating the same volume of food you may end up on the starting line a few pounds heavier than you wanted. Keep track of your caloric consumption during the taper and be careful not over eat. The type of food you eat the week prior should be the same as when you were training. Any drastic changes the week or night before a race may be to big of a shock to your system and damage your race day performance. If you have trouble relaxing during the taper, and are a caffeine addict, try to decrease you caffeine intake. This should help you relax and get some good rest at night. If this does not work try reading something not associated with sport or watch some mindless movies.

With all this said, it must be mentioned that a taper is not always straight froward. What works for one person may wreck another person's race. I still remember my college swimming days and a teammate we called Big Butt Williams. The night before a duel meet with another College I watched him drink more beers than I thought humanly possible and then the next day, two hours before the meet started, he scarfed down three quadruple mushroom cheese burgers. The whole time he was eating I was telling him how I was going to lap his big butt several times during the 1650y. As it turned out he ended up setting a meet record of less than sixteen minutes and lapped me twice. It quickly taught me that individuality is key when it comes to tapers and that each person needs to find that magic formula for them.

Taper Week one:

Week 1 - 6.2hr to 8.2hr
30-40min Easy Day off 60-70min Intervals 60-90min Xtrain
or 40-50 min easy
50-70min Track 60-90min Xtrain 90-100 min long
2nd run- 20-30min
  • The first week of the taper usually feels good as you decrease the overall duration of the training sessions.
  • These are your last serious interval and track session while decreasing the Thursday and Sunday runs.

Taper Week Two:

Week 2 - 4.6 hr to 6.2hr
Day off 50-60min Intervals 60-90min Xtrain
40-50 min easy
20-30min Easy 40-50min +accel 45-60min Xtrain 60-80min long
  • The second week of a taper is always the toughest. You start to feel tired and sluggish due to your body finally catching up to you and feeling the effects of a change in the training regime. The first reaction is training more thinking you are getting out of shape. DON'T! Stick to the plan. More tapers and races are messed up by doing too much two weeks before a long race then for any other reason.
  • The interval session on Tuesday is decreased while keeping the intensity the same. The track session on Thursday is substituted with an easy run followed by accelerations.
  • The long run on Sunday is once again reduced.
  • If you feel like an extra rest day is needed, then this is the week to do it.

Taper Week Three:

Week 3 - 2hr to 2.5hr
Day off 30-40min +accel 45-60min Xtrain 20-30min +accel Day off 20 min easy L.A. Marathon!!
  • The last six days before the marathon.
  • Reassure yourself positively that you have done the proper training and taper to meet your goals on race day.
  • Relax, stay hydrated with water and electrolytes, stay off your feet as much as possible, and try not to overeat.
  • The accelerations after the Tuesday and Thursday runs will keep the snap in your legs.
  • Enjoy and have fun on race day.

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