How to Taper to Maximize Your Race Performance - Live Slow Run Far

How to Taper to Maximize Your Race Performance

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Why should one taper? Well, you taper so that you’ll be your very best, perfectly rested self come your big day, but what makes up the ideal taper for you will be very individual. 

Generally speaking, women tend to want to taper less and feel as if they lose fitness faster than men, and the same goes for older individuals vs. younger – in other words, older athletes usually benefit from less or milder of a tapering process than younger do.

However, individual differences outweigh these general pointers, so with this – as with so much else – you’ll have to experiment, test out and ultimately find what works for you

With all that said, we like to recommend a three week taper for most races, but two weeks are often sufficient for half marathon distances and down. 

So how do you taper then?

For a three-week taper, you’re essentially looking at two taper weeks, followed by the actual race week. For a two-week taper, it’ll be one taper week plus race week. 

As the number one goal of a taper is to progressively reduce the overall load, you’ll want to drop your overall volume to about 60-70% of the previous week – your last “normal” training week, that is – for your first taper week, and then down to 40-50% the second. Obviously, you have to remember to adjust accordingly if that last training week didn’t see a somewhat normal training load – if you’re typically at 80k per week and had to cancel sessions due to work commitments that week, base your taper on 100k and not what the last training week actually brought you.

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Applied, it would look something like this for an athlete who is currently running around 100k per week: you’d drop to 60-70k for your first taper week, and then down to 40-50k for the second. As the third and final taper week is your actual race week, don’t focus too much on hitting a specific volume goal here, but make sure to take a couple of full rest days, but also to do some shorter (5-10k), peppy runs, perhaps two or three of them spread out over the week. (We’ll get into the anatomy of race week in another post.) 

For a two-week taper, for that athlete who is around 100k per week, you’d drop right to 50k your first taper week, and then boom – your second taper week will be your race week.

But remember that everyone is different – some may work better on a three-week taper, others on a two-week taper. Some may be able to keep the volume a bit higher, some may want a little bit of rest. The best way to find out what your taper formula looks like is to experiment with various approaches, tune in with yourself and see what works for you at the end of the (race) day.

Should you do any speed work during your taper?

Valid question. While it may be tempting to continue all of your hard effort running up until race day, resist the urge. With that said, you don’t want to spend all this time chugging and lose the pep in your step. There is a balance to find here, and what usually works best is to drop down to one speed session a week during your taper, and keep it a little easier than normal. You want to maintain that feeling of being fast without tiring out the legs too much – in other words, do the work but don’t go put in the hardest effort you’ve ever logged. And hey, good luck!

Two athletes, two races, two different tapers:

Three-week taper for a 100k race
(100k per week regular volume)
Taper week 1: 65k
Taper week 2: 45k
Race week: 20k + 100k (race)

Two-week taper for a half marathon
(60k per week regular volume)
Taper week 1: 30k
Race week: 15k + 21k (race)

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