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Why and how should you taper before an event?

For this first Hungry Runner training talk, we will define tapering, and how to organize it best.

What is tapering?

It is the pre-race period during which you reduce your training load (amount of hours), in order to start the race fresh and at your highest fitness level. This period will usually last 1 or 2 weeks.

To best understand taper, we have to define what is “training”.

Training is learning a new skill, in sport learning involves workouts and recovery. You apply a stress to your body (a workout) and your body will adapt to this stress through recovery.

If we look at an athlete, we have short term and long term recovery. When you do a session you will usually recover in 12hr to 48hr, according to its difficulty. Then you will feel rested enough to perform another one. If you zoom out to focus on a full race preparation (from 12 to 26 weeks), you see that through weeks, you perform workouts that progressively become longer and more intense.

Long preparations create tiredness, and this long term tiredness requires a lot more than 48hr of recovery. This is why tapering is key before a race, you need to be rested to race at your best. One fact, you would rather take the start of a race 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained.

To determine how long and how much to taper you need to look at different key elements:

  • The importance of the event in your season: Is the race a key race or is it part of your training? If it is a key race you will follow the rules set bellow. If the race is part of your training you might taper less or not at all.

  • The estimated duration of the race/event: you will taper longer for an Ironman or an ultra than for a sprint triathlon or a 10km road running race.

  • The duration of your preparation: If you followed a 26-week training program you will need a longer taper period than an athlete that followed a 8-week program. As you have accumulated more stress.

  • Your feelings: Taper needs to be adjusted to how you feel, professional or personal obligations might affect your ability to rest.

General rules of tapering:

  • For events lasting one hour or less: Start your taper one week prior to your race. You will reduce the load of about 70 to 80% and the frequency of training by 20%. You will keep some intensity in sessions, but nothing “challenging”.

  • For events lasting more than one hour: Start your taper two weeks prior to the race. First week reduce intensity and load of about 30% and the second week you will follow the same one week taper as for events of less than one hour.

We train hard to reach the goals that we have set, through the weeks we spend numerous hours doing workouts that usually become harder and harder. Exercising is hard an but it is rewarding. What about recovery, why is it even harder? Tapering can be nerve-racking, you can get to feel under trained or “soft”, It also allows more time to think and get stressed about what is coming. But tapering is necessary and the more you will perform it, the better you will be able to adjust it and build confidence in its positive effect.

My tip is to face this sudden increase of free time: spend quality time with your family and friends, go to the cinema or meet with people you haven’t seen in a while.

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