Tapering – What it is, why we should do it.
If you have ever participated in any type of training plan for a big event (road race, obstacle course race etc), you will have heard the words “taper”. To some this means a huge jump for joy, as it means you have hit the biggest week / run / workout in your training plan, and now it’s time to step it off a bit.
For others, this means the start of a grumpy period of time before the big event. Some people even note due to cutting back their level of intensity, they get sick. So the big question is, why should you taper?
Think of the TAPER process as a set of stairs. You build up (walk up) towards your goal in training before your big event. Once you hit the stairs, you slowly walk down towards your event. The journey down shows you how far you climbed up, and allows your body to relax just a little before your event. You never want to go into an event tense, or stiff or injured.
I want to try and keep this super simple. During a big training plan or schedule, you slowly build up your mileage, reps, and or intensity. This phase of building keeps on going, until you hit your TAPER week(s). From experience, tapering can occur 10 days to a week before an event. The TAPER is used to slowly bring your body down from the super high intense level of exercise it has gotten used to.
Why we need to TAPER? As much as I hate to admit it, I get TAPER tantrums as my body is used to intensely working out during my high training loads. I get grumpy, tired and kind of snappy towards people around me. I do however get why we need to taper.
I have trained before with no taper, and gone into an event injured (with my end result being less than ideal). I have also run races sick (my first marathon with a sinus and throat infection) as I wasn’t tapering properly, so there is a fine line. This year, I have worked with a coach who adds in the TAPER period into my training cycles, and I have noticed a difference in race day performance / results.
How Do I TAPER properly?
You need to look at your training schedule and step off it slowly. I recommend a slow taper starting about 2 weeks off from your event. If you rest too much, your immune system and metabolism gets thrown out of whack due to the sudden drop in activity, and you may get sick. To be honest, the taper will generally come with your training plan (and all are different), but it’s always a good idea to look into what works best for you and your training situation.
I liked this example, published by Runner’s Connect as it breaks down what three weeks before a marathon taper should look like: How to Taper for A Marathon. If you don’t have a TAPER plan built into your training, if you go online and look up tapering, you can find many more really good examples. There is no plan (training or otherwise) that fits any one person, so it’s best to find what works for you.
In the end after all is said and done, TAPERING is a good way to bring the body back down after pushing it in your training cycle. It is very important physically and immune system wise to step down the training slowly. This will give your mind and body a break before your big event, but at the same time keep your body ready for your goal race.