Tapering? Wrap It Up With a Burst
In the days before a race, scale back on mileage but not instensity.
In principle, tapering should be simple–run less so you’re rested for race day. In practice, many athletes find two to three weeks of cutting back on mileage and intensity makes their legs feel heavy and lifeless. But Spanish coach and physiologist Iñigo Mujika, a leading expert on tapering, sees a way around that problem. Mujika suggests athletes start their taper early, scaling back on mileage but not intensity, then three days before the event, “reload” their muscles with an interval workout. Performing these workouts when your legs are fresher than they’ve been for months can actually increase your fitness.
Indeed, too much rest or slow running lowers the muscle tension in your legs, says Norwegian Olympian and 13:06 5-K runner Marius Bakken, which is why they feel flat and sluggish. Short, fast bursts of running raise muscle tension back up. If you get your taper right, your body will respond by producing more oxygen-carrying red blood cells, lowering stress hormone levels, and storing more fuel in your muscles–enough to shave about three percent off your finishing time, on average. Here’s how to inject some energy into your taper so you shed fatigue and sharpen your edge.
Plan it: For a marathon, cut mileage to 80 to 90 percent of normal three weeks out; reduce to 60 to 70 percent two weeks out, and 50 percent in the final week. Maintaining intensity is crucial to avoid losing fitness, so don’t slow your easy runs down; for hard workouts, do fewer intervals than you normally would but run them at your usual pace. Stick to one day off: The volume reduction should come from shorter, not fewer, runs. If you’re racing a 5-K or 10-K, reduce the length of your runs so your total mileage the week before race day is about half of your typical number.
Reload it: In the final week, for a Sunday race, take a rest day on Wednesday. Over the next three days, reload by running an interval workout at goal pace, an easy run, and an easy run with strides. For your interval run, simply modify sessions that you’ve been doing all along and resist the temptation to blast repeats faster than usual because your legs are fresh. The easy runs serve to get your legs back into the rhythm and feel of running. Aim to run at your usual pace for half your typical easy-run length, but if your legs feel heavy, add an extra mile and pick up the pace toward the end.
Turn It Up
A reload plan for the last few days before your big event
Marathon reload: Off
5-K or 10-K reload: Off
Marathon reload: 2 x 1 mile at marathon pace with 2:00 rest; 4 x 400 at 10-K pace with 90 seconds rest
5-K or 10-K reload: 800 meters at 10-K pace; rest 45 seconds; 300 meters at 5-K pace; rest 2:00. Repeat sequence three times.
Marathon reload: 4 miles easy
5-K or 10-K reload: 4 miles easy
Marathon reload: 4 miles easy; 4 x 30-second strides at 10-K to half-marathon race pace
5-K or 10-K reload: 3 miles easy; 5 x 100 meters at mile to 5-K pace
Marathon reload: 26.2
5-K or 10-K reload: 5-K or 10-K