THE PERFECT TAPER

Race day is com­ing up, you’ve put the hard work in, covered the miles, ticked off the equip­ment list and now you have been told it is a good idea to taper. But what does this mean? How do you approach it? And is it essen­tial?

What is a taper?

A “taper” is a block incor­por­ated into the final few weeks of a train­ing plan before a key race where the train­ing load is less than usu­al. This gives the body time to recov­er, build up gly­co­gen reserves and rest so that an ath­lete can be at peak per­form­ance on the start line.

Wheth­er you are a seasoned ultramara­thon­er or are doing your first Ultra X, a good taper will help you con­sol­id­ate train­ing gains and help freshen up the body, mean­ing that you can be in prime con­di­tion for your race and enjoy the exper­i­ence as much as pos­sible.

How long you taper for depends on the dur­a­tion and intens­ity of your train­ing, as well as factors such as age, fit­ness, fatigue levels and physiolo­gic­al influ­ences. Get­ting the bal­ance right is key, a run­ner must rest enough for the body to over­come fatigue but ensure that the gains of train­ing are not lost. It is vital to under­stand the com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that it is not just about rest, rather main­tain­ing muscle con­di­tion­ing whilst lim­it­ing stress.

How should you approach?

The Taper Peri­od
If you are a new­bie to ultramara­thons or if you have been main­tain­ing very high weekly mileages, a two to three week taper peri­od is recom­men­ded where you reduce train­ing volumes. This doesn’t neces­sar­ily mean peak mileage should be at this point though. For some­thing like an Ultra X, aim­ing to peak your miles around six to eight weeks before the event means that you have time to build some con­sist­ency at this level before you hit your taper peri­od.

Train­ing volume
The aim should be that you reduce mileage to around 30–35% of your max­im­um train­ing week, by shav­ing volume off each week until race day, do this ini­tially quickly, and then more gradu­ally and focus on aim­ing to reduce over­all volume of runs, rather than fre­quency (i.e. if you are doing 3 runs per week still do 3 runs but keep them short­er).

As an example if your biggest train­ing week is 60 miles, your last 3 weeks should look some­thing like:
Week 1 — 40 miles (Circa 30% drop in peak mileage)
Week 2- 30 miles (Circa 15% drop on peak mileage)
Week 3- 20 miles (Circa 15% drop on peak mileage)

It is import­ant to note that every­one is dif­fer­ent, and for some ultrar­unning vet­er­ans a 3 week taper will be too long as their body is so used to long dis­tances that 7 days is suf­fi­cient.

 

The Perfect Taper Ultra X

 

Intens­ity
Research sug­gests that main­tain­ing levels of intens­ity in a taper ensures bet­ter race-day per­form­ance. Many run­ners con­tin­ue to include one-two high­er effort workouts such as tem­pos or fartleks. These keep the body race ready and help counter the taper blues. But keep these workouts short to avoid fatigue.

Final Word
At the end of the day, you are the best judge of you so don’t be afraid to per­son­al­ize and tweak when there is a sol­id reas­on to do so. The above is simply some guid­ance — the most import­ant thing is that you are well-res­ted and rar­ing to go come race day.

Some­times com­pet­it­ors feel like they need lots of exer­cise in a
taper just to avoid the self-doubt spir­al. Don’t worry about this. You must trust that you are not going to be los­ing fit­ness.

By pre­par­ing for your taper ahead of time, using the anti­cip­a­tion of it as the motiv­a­tion for your last big train­ing block where you can put your feet up a little and focus on the fact that you have done all the hard work you will ensure suc­cess for the good bit! Race week.

For those who are pre­par­ing for Ultra X races Sri Lanka or Jordan, the taper is also the time to incor­por­ate some heat accli­ma­tion into your train­ing. Art­icle on this com­ing soon.

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