Now that you are just a few weeks away from your goal race, it’s time to taper and allow your body the rest it needs to repair and rebuild muscle and tissue, replenish muscle glycogen stores, restore optimal hydration levels and reduce stress hormone levels. This ensures your body is in the best possible condition for race day.
There are many approaches to tapering and everyone responds differently. It may take some experimentation to find the best approach for you, especially if you’re new to race tapering. Consider the following aspects to a successful taper, which address all areas of your life:
1. Sleep: Small changes make race day easier.
Shift your sleep schedule to race-day wake-up time requirements over the final week before the race. That way when you wake up on race morning, your wake-up time will feel natural.
Try to get adequate sleep during the weeks leading up to the race. For most people this is 7-8 hours per night.
Don’t worry about insomnia the night before the race. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep two nights before the race and you’ll be fine.
2. Other exercise: Don’t begin a new exercise program within 4-6 weeks prior to the race. Specifically, avoid starting any of the following:
New cross-training mode
Major, physical house project
Weight training (Note: if you already weight train, maintain current weights, repetitions and sets for the 4-6 weeks prior to the race. Don’t increase weights, etc. Stop weight training 5-7 days before your race.)
3. Stress: Try to limit significant life stresses during the month prior to the race. If possible, avoid job changes, household moves, significant travel and other disruptions to your normal lifestyle.
4. Running mileage:
Follow a two-week taper for the half marathon. During the taper, even though you are decreasing mileage, maintain the intensity (speed) of your runs. The runs will just be shorter. Here’s what your two-week taper should look like:
- Week 1: 30% mileage reduction
- Week 2: 60% mileage reduction
Run little or no mileage 2-3 days prior to the race. If you feel you must run to loosen up the day before the race, don’t run more than a mile.
For the 5K, you can do a one-week taper, reducing your mileage for the week before the race by approximately 40-50%, again keeping your speed the same as prior to the taper.
5. Fueling and hydration: Prior to the race, either follow your normal diet (during which your mileage reduction will allow you to store glycogen) or a ‘carbohydrate-loading’ approach (where you slowly ramp up carbohydrate consumption and decrease protein and fat consumption during the final week before the race). The carbohydrate-loading approach is probably unnecessary for the half marathon or 5K unless you ran into problems maintaining your energy level during your long runs. Regardless of which approach you take, follow these guidelines 2-3 days before your race:
Stay well hydrated throughout the week.
Drink water freely and often during the 24-48 hours before the event.
2-3 days before the race: eat low-fiber, low-glycemic index foods.
1-2 days before the race: consider avoiding fried foods, red meat, dairy, nuts, roughage to avoid gastric distress during the race.
6. How you will feel during the taper: The reduction in physical workload during the taper will take an unexpected toll on you. Your body is used to exercise and your body will react to its absence. You will likely experience symptoms such as:
Feeling bloated, fat and sluggish
Muscle twinges, aches and tightness
If you feel any and all of this, good job. Your taper is going according to plan and you’re on track to be able to do your very best on race day. More important than anything, stay relaxed. Do a bit of stretching to loosen any tight muscles. Consider scheduling a sports massage a few days before the race, but only if you have previously had this treatment earlier in your training program. If you have followed a well-designed training plan and have prepared well, you are ready to have a successful goal race.
7. For the race day itself, put together a checklist in advance so that you can stay relaxed and not forget something important. Include all of the things you want to wear and bring for your race: clothing, shoes, mask, smart watch, nutrition and hydration, bib and timing chip, course map, etc. Go through your checklist and lay out what you plan to wear and pack what you plan to bring the night before the race. Get to the race start early so that you have time to find parking and warm up. Finish your pre-race hydration and then relax and enjoy the race!
Laurie Lasseter Marathoner
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
RRCA Certified Running Coach
Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness