What is Tapering in Running & How Does it Help You?

Written By: Jeremy N

Tapering is the act of reducing exercise in the days just before a major event such as a marathon. Many endurance sports, such as long-distance running and swimming, employ tapering. Many athletes believe that a lengthy period of tapering is required for optimal performance.

I have been putting out a lot of articles to help new runners get started, or provide knowledge to those seasoned runners.

Today, I'd like to share with you another piece of information that has a beneficial side effect for runners. The answer is: Tapering.

Tapering is the practice of decreasing physical activity in the days leading up to a crucial event. Swimming and long-distance running are examples of endurance sports that utilize tapering. Tapering is necessary for many athletes to achieve their best results.

What is Tapering and How Does it Help You Before a Race?

What is tapering? 

Tapering is a form of conditioning. In the context of sports, tapering refers to reducing activity near to a crucial event. Tapering is quite common in endurance sports such as long-distance running and swimming.

There are several ways to approach tapering. For example, decreasing the number of intensity days as you get close to your big race or decrease the amount of miles you run.

Contrary to popular belief, tapering before a contest or race has no effect on your performance; in fact, many top athletes consider it a must as they prepare their body for the big race!

The goal of tapering is to preserve all of the physical changes resulting from training volume while eliminating the undesirable effects such as tiredness, soreness,, and other unpleasant feelings during competition. So that, your body is ready to go and has run the race distance without completely being whooped before the race day. 

Many people are unaware that tapering exists, or they believe it isn't useful, which is why so many runners avoid this important aspect of training.

The truth is, tapering and reducing your exercise (or taking a break) allows your body to recover. Additionally, they help you maintain good running form just before the race.

What is the optimum length of time for tapering?

This is also quite personal and varies based on the person or coach who trains you. For me, 1-2 weeks is plenty for a taper phase, and that seems to be an appropriate amount of time to make a beneficial change to the routine, which I mean I don't feel underprepared come race time and I don't feel overtired or sore as I approach race day.

To provide further explanation into the overtraining fear or step of this process, I'd like to point out that there is a thin line between not training and taper.

Keep the same number of workouts/ training load per week and reduce the amount of time and intensity spent on each one. This has a lot to do with fitness levels and how often you are training. 

Do I Keep With the Same Running Schedule Up To Race Day?

Am I supposed to do the same type of workout during a taper period that I was doing when I started? Is it necessary to keep my activity right up until the end?

You should adjust your activity through tapering which includes adjusting your mileage or intensity days. As I prepared for my first marathon, I tapered the week before the race but kept the same running dates the same.

For example, on Monday's I would run 8-12 miles, when tapering I only did 5-9.

During the tapering process, you must be even more aware of your training volume. Balance your training while doing so lightly. Also, be conscious of the kinds of meals you consume. Eating a ton the week of your race when you have not been preparing for it can create additional issues.

Here are a few Do's & Don't to Tapering

The Do's

You should try to remain off your feet for longer during your taper. Because we're used to expending a lot of energy throughout workouts and runs, this is often the most challenging part for runners. However, before race day, you want to be well-rested and energetic, not tired and heavy.

If you use an activity tracker, now is the time to set your daily step count at a lower number.

It's also an excellent moment to put your focus on eating and sleeping more. Consume plenty of carbohydrates every day, and aim for seven to eight hours of excellent sleep each night.

This will allow your muscle glycogen levels to return to optimum levels, giving your muscles and connective tissues a chance to heal and strengthen after a lengthy exercise regimen.

You're aiming to minimize the amount of fatigue you've built up throughout your training and recuperate properly so you can perform at your best on race day.

Following the conclusion of your longest run on your training plan two to three weeks before the week of your race, you should begin tapering. You should start cutting back in mileage immediately after completing your last long run.

For approximately three weeks leading up to race day, you should decrease your running volume by around 20 to 30 percent each week.

If you do a few strength training sessions each week, your taper is the period when you should stop doing them. The objective of the tapering process isn't to break down muscles but rather to repair them.

Finally, while tapering, don't wear uncomfortable shoes - that means no high heels or those fancy dress shoes.

The Don'ts

It's tempting to compensate during your taper by either adding in activities like walking, yoga, or other sports, or cutting back on how much food you eat when you're used to doing a lot of activity.

The only thing you should be concerned about now is eating enough and getting rest, and you shouldn't reduce your diet — you'll need everything for race day.

On that note, attempting a new activity is not the best idea right now. Your friend has been pestering you about attending a hot yoga session with them? You've been thinking about taking up rock climbing for the first time?

These are all wonderful things to do following your race, but keep it safe and focused on recuperating for the big day.

Finally, don't worry Don't be concerned about things beyond your control, such as the weather, and don't lose sleep over workouts you weren't able to complete during your training. You've done everything you could up to this point, and attempting to squeeze in a few more workouts before race day won't help you achieve anything.

Relax, focus on your race, and trust in yourself that you've done your best. Often times, tapering is only reserved for longer races and shorter races have rest days. 

Frequently Asked Questions:

How do you taper for a running race?

Reduce your usual mileage by half for the week before your 5K event, but keep the intensity up. Run 4 x 400 meters at a pace of 90 percent of your 5K goal with a 200-meter jog in between repeats early in the week. Later in the week, go for two miles, then do 6 or 8 x 100-meter for optimal performance. 

How does tapering work running?

Tapering entails reducing your weekly mileage volume by 20 to 30% each week for three weeks, from your highest volume week. If your greatest mileage week was 40 miles, you'd reduce your mileage by 8 to 12 miles, for example. Week 1 of your taper would then be 28 to 32 miles, for instance.

Marathon and longer distance runners taper more frequently than lower mileage runners.  If you taper correctly your performance on race day will be peak! 

What happens when you taper?

During taper, your anaerobic threshold rises, allowing you to exercise at greater intensities for longer periods without slowing down to keep up with metabolic clearance.

Hi, Jeremy Here, 

I am the the guy behind Train for a 5K. On this site, I share everything that learned along my running journey. The content I create is the running training I wish I had before we started this journeyAbout Jeremy. 

I have run over 250 races including the California International Marathon, Clarksburg Country Run, and various other 5K & 10K races throughout the United States. I am a former Athletics department employee at University of the Pacific and Shoe Consultant with Dicks Sporting Goods

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