The worst scenario after a long preparation phase is to arrive at the starting line on day X with heavy legs. A tapering phase in the last weeks before the race can ensure a good balance between recovery and effort and minimise the risk of tired legs on race day. In this post we explain what exactly tapering is and why it should be an important part of your preparation.
What is tapering?
Preparing for a race is a long process. In running.COACH training plans, the race-specific training phase lasts up to 25 weeks, depending on the distance. During this period, the body prepares for the challenge in terms of endurance and speed, which places high demands on our musculoskeletal system. In order not to appear at the starting line with tired legs at the peak of the season, a so-called ‘tapering phase’ is highly advisable. In concrete terms, this means that the amount of training is significantly reduced in the period immediately before the race, in order to arrive at the starting line with recovered muscles. During this period, the amount of aerobic enzymes (and therefore aerobic capacity) and muscle glycogen increase.
When to start tapering?
The duration of the tapering phase depends on the goal of the competition, the intensity and the amount of training. The following guidelines can be applied for different distances:
- 5 – 10 km: 1-2 weeks of tapering
- Half marathon: 1 ½ – 2 weeks of tapering
- Marathon: 2 weeks of tapering
How should training be adapted?
In general, the number of training kilometres should be considerably reduced, but the intensity should still be guaranteed. Both training duration (by 60-80%) and frequency (by 20-60%) should be decreased. The percentage to be reduced depends on your age, training experience, weekly volume, number of weekly training sessions and training intensity.
Make sure you continue to train intensively during the tapering phase. However, your body and muscles should no longer be overstimulated. Base your training intensity on your race pace.
Also include the so-called ‘Sleep-Loading’ in the tapering phase. The positive effects of sleep on recovery are extraordinary and should not be overlooked under any circumstances.
- Plan a tapering phase 1-2 weeks before the race, in order to be able to present yourself at the starting line with optimal recovery.
- Reduce the duration and quantity of training sessions, but still perform intensive sessions (which can be relatively short and race-oriented).
- Supplement tapering with other regeneration measures such as sleep, massages, sauna sessions, …