The week before a race – taper time

taper-timeI’m just a few days away from the Two Bays Trail Run – a 28km trail race that takes in views of Port Philip and Westernport Bays as I run over Arthurs Seat from Dromana to Cape Schanck.

I participated in this race last year and it was the hardest running I’d ever done.

This year, I’ve done a lot more hills training. I moved house and there are some great (big) hills for me to train on with my partner (on the road and in life). As you’d expect, I’ve been building my mileage and intensity over the last three months or so. I ran in the Afterglow Half Marathon in November and have been hitting the hills at least once a week.

But now, I’m in my taper period. This is the time runners ease back on the training to let their bodies rest and recover so they’re in peak condition on race day. It’s not a period of no activity – rather one when intensity and effort are pulled back.

For me, that’s meant laying off the mileage and intensity – I did a 50 minute high intensity run about a week ago, a 40 minute easier run a four days ago and a very relaxed 5km two days ago . Yesterday was some walking and an easy swim.

The remaining days before the race will be easy with low intensity exercise. This is the time I find hardest. Even though I know I need to let my body prepare itself for a particularly intense effort, I still want to train.

The journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise conducted a review of 50 studies on tapering and found that

  • levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones that are depleted by high mileage return to optimal ranges during a taper.
  • muscle damage that occurs during sustained training is also repaired
  • immune function and muscle strength improve
  • the average performance improvement by athletes who tapered was 3%

In other words – and this might seem counterintuitive to some – but laying off before a big event gives more benefits than training up to the last moment.

Each running event I prepare for – I hardly call them races given my relatively slow pace and the low likelihood I’ll be challenging for a podium finish – I learn a little more.

And giving my body adequate rest before a focus event is something I’ve learned is important if i want to get the best out of myself.

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