Tapering before a race: The right way to get ready before your first 5K or 10K
As a runner training for your first race, whether it’s a 2K, 5K or 10K, it’s essential to know that your running volume or weekly mileage has to vary as you come closer to the event. This includes training consistently at your goal pace at the given distance for several months in advance, while maintaining your overall nutrition and fitness levels. Closer to the race date, however, is when you need to scale back and cut down on your training. Yes, you read that right. Several studies vouch for the fact that reducing your hours on the track a week or 10 days before your half marathon actually leads to a better performance. This is known as the taper or tapering, and it forms as integral a part of marathon training as your long running sessions.
You might not agree with the idea of cutting down your training, but there’s a simple and scientific reason behind it. Training for your first race brings several long-term improvements to your form but also cause fatigue and exhaustion. What the taper does is give you the balance between extreme training and recovery periods, allowing both your mind and body to replenish and recharge before an important race.
Among other things, tapering helps bolster muscle power, increase muscle glycogen, muscle repair, fine-tune the neural network so that it’s working the most efficiently, and most importantly, eliminate the risk of overtraining which can slow the athlete down the most. So, how can you effectively taper before your upcoming half marathon? We have some pointers.
Length of the taper: Your taper will ideally follow the race you’re training for. The longer the race, the more time you need for the recovery period before it. For a half marathon, the tapering period lasts anywhere between 12 – 15 days, while for a 5K or 10K, a week to 10 days is more than enough time for the taper. Maintaining the balance is important. Too short a taper will leave you tired on race day, while tapering for too long will lead to a loss of race-day fitness. For newbies, a longer taper duration proves more beneficial as they are not used to running in races or marathons.
Mileage and distance: Tapering does not mean that you stop running altogether. It’s just about cutting down your volume, i.e duration and distance of your runs. You can still run at the same intensity that you have been preparing in the weeks prior to the taper. Cut down the volume of your workout about 40 – 50%. So if you’ve been training for two hour runs, cut that down to an hour. If you’ve been running 10K on your daily runs, bring it down to 6K or lesser. Don’t feel guilty about the cutbacks – it is still a part of your training.
Maintain intensity: Drop the distance, not the attitude. To maintain your optimal fitness levels before the race, it’s vital that you keep training at the same level of intensity or higher. If your training includes intervals and tempo runs, continue them through your taper period at a lesser duration. This is also a great time to test out your race-day gear to make sure that everything is in good working condition and complements your run.
Reward yourself: Most runners have a hard time keeping their mind off their runs even when they’re not running. The sudden drop in your activity levels might leave you feeling anxious and restless, but it’s important to have faith and resist the urge to go back to your early training days. A week before the race, pick up activities that de-stress you and relax your mind, while at the same time, do not impact your running muscles. Swimming and yoga are some popular choices. With 72 hours to go, stop training completely, and allow your body to top up its glycogen reserves for race day. Instead, concentrate on eating well, getting enough sleep and listing out all that you need for the race.