Taper. The word even sounds negative. It brings to mind images of dinner plates overloaded with pasta and athletes anxious because they are worried about how much they are not running. Yet, athletes also tend to use a taper as an excuse to slack off and not train.
“oh, I’m tapering”
On the contrary, the two weeks prior to the big race is the last time you want to start over eating and under training.
Instead, do not taper, but peak!
A peak should be something feared and respected by the athlete, almost as much as the race itself. In order to peak, a certain level of fitness must be reached 3-5 weeks prior to an event. You must literally peak. Peak volume, speed, mileage, intensity.
Remember, you are no longer tapering for the race, you are peaking. Now that your training has peaked, you must do the same! This massive amount of training leaves you fatigued. A taper is meant to remove this! The catch is, and what many athletes miss, is that you have to go into a taper fatigued! Otherwise, what is there to taper from?
You need to heal your body, but not loose fitness. How is that done?
With a taper...but taper to peak! Depending on your training and the race, anywhere from 5-2 weeks out you will start trimming away the excess from your training. Start with the recovery runs and the non key workouts. Many recommend to cut volume 25% each week for a 3 week taper. If you generally do 10 hours of weekly training, the last week may only be 2.5 or 3 hours. Yet those should be 2.5 or 3 hard hours of training. Don’t get lazy! These hard training sessions, spread out over the week or done with 1-2 days of full recovery between them will not fatigue you. They will stimulate your body and get your legs and mind ready for race pace!
Here is a look at two final weeks of a race peak. The first one is your more traditional and common, very easy taper. Your second is what Amby Burfut calls a Magness-Salazar Taper System. While it has been used by athletes for many many years, they are two recent and well known coaches who are applying it.
A traditional taper may look something like this:
S: Long run -25%
M: Off or very light
T: WU, 8x400 @ reduced intensity
W: Easy run
T: Easy run w/ 5-8x 100m strides
F: Easy run or Off
Magness - Salazar Taper System for a 5k
S: 3x(400m, 300m, 200m, 100m w/ 2:00 recov btw reps)
M: EZ 50 (optional)
T: 10x1:00 @ 5k pace, EZ10, 1600m @ 5k pace
W: EZ 30 w/ 5x100m strides to race pace
T: Regen 30 (optional)
F: EZ 40 w/ 10x100m strides to race pace
S: 5k Race
The most important thing to remember about a taper, and anything in relation to athletics, is to do what works best for you. Have you experimented with different types of tapers and found your own system?