How to taper for your race

How to taper for your race

16053 views 4 min to read

Vlad Shatrov & Adam Clarke tell us why we need to taper as we get ready for race day and how to make the most of it.

Throughout my own training and competing over many years, I have been exposed to some very accredited athletes, knowledgeable coaches and runners from elite to beginner.

One of the things that always comes up is tapering and how it should be done correctly. My experience and own take on it is pretty similar to that of Adam Clarke from Up N Adam Performance Coaching who summed-up his experience and approach to tapering:

“The reason for tapering isn’t mysterious – it allows you to be as rested as possible so you can maximise your potential. Clearly the need to taper from your peak mileage is at odds with doing too little for long enough to cost you aerobic fitness. Most formal schedules have you cutting back mileage for 3 weeks which I encourage most people to do.”

However, says Clarke “It’s about finding what best works for you. I personally respond better physically and mentally to a 1 week cut back before a race, it’s far from a settled issue and is an interesting debate that will continue to rage, but my biggest tip is to find what works for you over time and if you are a first time marathoner, half marathoner or bridge runner I would lean toward a 3 week drop off” 

WATCH: Vlad & Adam take you through a series of strength exercises for runners

How to taper for a race

Your taper should be gradual, and not sudden. It’s an odd thing, but many people who suddenly ease up on volume including myself complain of feeling sleepy and fatigued on race day.

So whatever volume you have reached in daily runs on set days with 3 weeks to go in your plan, you want to reduce to 80% in the first 7 days, then to 60% with 2 weeks to go, which then leaves you doing a third of your normal mileage in the last 7 days.

With aerobic training, it’s essential that a certain volume or aerobic undercurrent is kept up to maintain the necessary oxidation of key elements like your mitochondria which is the powerhouse cell which generate the energy that our cells need to do their job whilst we run, so we need to make sure we are firing them up correctly over the last 3 weeks of our program and we maintain the necessary intensity matched with correct volume drop off to keep the body firing.

I think sometimes people drop away too much and find themselves losing what they have trained so hard to get during their lead up and start to feel drained and tired from doing too little in those last 21 days, so you must keep the fire burning, if your long run is 32km then the next week it is 25km, then the next week it is 19km .Obviously all other run lengths and times would be cut down by the same amount but match your usual intensity.

Most people will tell you the toughest part of their preparation is long runs, tempo efforts or record mileage weeks. But for most- myself included-it’s the self-control of cutting back the mileage in the weeks leading up be disciplined stay positive and remind yourself you have done the work and the taper is as important as the rest of the training plan so do it correctly and find a method that works for you.

Keep the mind and body busy with the extra time you have from the shortened training sessions by getting extra rest, have niggles seen to at the physio or get a massage and make sure your race day plan is on point.  

Clarke’s final tip? “Above all enjoy the process. We run for so many reasons but the main one is; we love it!”

While the reason we need to taper isn’t mysterious some things just work better than for others so its something you will end up refining over time with practice.

  • The shorter the event the shorter the taper
  • Your last full speed based session should be completed 7-10 days out from a Marathon to Half Marathon and for distances of 10km 5-7 days
  • Include a session in the last few days which had some “strides” or “run-throughs” in it – short sharp efforts approximately 100 metres in length
Good luck!

Adam Clarke is a personal trainer and strength & conditioning coach. With 14 years industry experience, he is passionate about conditioning & educating his clients with the purpose of getting them to perform at their peak.

He is the owner of Up N Adam Performance Training in which he works with various teams, individuals and athletes on a daily basis in Newcastle.

A background in sports and a passion for all things fitness and running has seen him have great success in finding what each individual is truly capable of.

Tell us what you think login or sign up to share your thoughts.

Dear Vlad,

That was a great read - thank you! Over the weekend I read this study (meta-analysis of different studies). They advocate for "A 2-wk taper during which training volume is exponentially reduced by 41–60%". It doesn't really specify if it's average or peak training load. What are your thoughts on this?

Many thanks!
Your body needs typically 10 days to recover fully from a good workout. It is not a bad idea to do a key workout 10 days out from the event. This can be an interval session (eg Yasso 800) or a race pace run for 50 to 60% of full distance. In my opinion the feeling you are after during taper is feeling strong and cutting off duration to save your energy. Intensity should shift towards race pace. You probably want to eat leaner too during taper as you burn less calories.