Your training has been right on the money. You are running every mile. Your nutrition and gear are locked in, and though they feel completely worn down, you know your legs are stronger than ever. But something strange is happening with your training plan. As you near the end of your training for a race, especially a long-distance race, you will notice that your mileage starts decreasing. Let’s talk about the taper.
What is Tapering?
Tapering is what we call the sharp decrease in mileage in the last 2-3 weeks of training before a race. For example, if at the height of your training you are running 40 miles per week, your tapering weeks may look very different at 7-12 miles. Each plan and runner will have a different taper, but they will all have a steep decrease in mileage for a period around 2-3 weeks. Believe it or not, this decrease in mileage will actually help you perform at your athletic peak on race day.
The science behind tapering may be a little unintuitive for first time racers. When you are training and building up mileage your muscles are getting stronger and more efficient after every run. Which is of course the goal of training. So when we talk about tapering it seems like your legs would be getting weaker everyday, however that is not the case.
The assumption that you are getting stronger after every run is not exactly accurate. Today’s run is not what is making your muscles stronger. It is actually the runs from about 2-3 weeks ago that are adding to the overall strength of your muscles. When you take time off from heavy training right before your race you are not losing any of your muscle strength. Tapering also has the added benefit of reducing the chance for injury. Every extra mile that you run past what is suggested for your training is another opportunity for something to go wrong before race day. Now you know why we taper, but it can still be a trying time mentally even if you know the reasons behind it.
Staying Sane During Your Taper
Even with the knowledge of tapering and all of the science behind it, many runners will still find it difficult to complete their taper correctly. After months of training, you’ve most likely built up a bit of an addiction to long mileage, and it can be hard to pull back. There is also the nagging feeling that just one more mile of training could be the difference between hitting your goals or falling short.
What can you do when you are feeling the taper jitters?
- Use the time to rest physically and mentally
- Focus on staying healthy
- Take back your social life
- Remember that more miles doesn’t mean more fitness
Tapering is an essential part of every race plan regardless of your running experience. Giving your body a chance to rest and rebuild for 2-3 weeks before your race is essential to a great performance. Sports science tells us that you will not lose any fitness during this period, and the lower mileage drastically reduces your chance of injury. It can be difficult, but if you can stay on track with your taper you’ll be able to perform to the best of your ability on race day!