How to Create the Perfect Pre-Race Taper for You

A taper can be a long-awaited respite from the rigors of hard training or an unwelcome dose of pre-race nerves, brought on by the extra energy that accompanies a drop in mileage and intensity. How can you be certain that you are rested enough before a big race without dropping mileage so low that you feel stale at the starting line? The answer depends on the distance you're racing, your goals for that specific event and your experience level.

What Is a Taper?

Before deciding if, when and how to taper before your next goal event, you need to learn what constitutes a well-structured taper.

More: 3 Common Questions About the Pre-Race Taper

Mileage Drop

The most recognizable component of the taper is the decrease in mileage, which serves to lessen your training load and keep your legs fresh for the big race. You strive to run at your highest capacity when you are at the peak of training—you often push your mileage right up to our "glass ceiling," the point at which your body will break down from the stress of too much running. Riding the red line is what makes you a better athlete, but in order to get the most out of your body on race day, you need to decrease your mileage just before the event.

The percentage of mileage decrease varies widely from athlete to athlete and race to race, and should ultimately be decided between athlete and coach. Some athletes reduce mileage by as little as 15 to 20 percent during a taper while others reduce by as much as 40 to 50 percent.

More: Run Your Best Race: The Art of Peaking

Intensity Drop

Runners who race to achieve time goals focus not only on high mileage but also on intense workouts at a hard pace, ranging from shorter sprint intervals to longer sustained efforts at a more moderate pace. Hard workouts flood the leg muscles with lactic acid, creating soreness and stiffness. In order to reach the starting line of a big race with fresh legs that have some snap in them, it is important to give your body a break from the intense workouts.

Many athletes complete 1 to 2 hard workouts each week in addition to long runs and easy efforts. A tapered race week generally calls for a shorter long run and one light workout 3 to 5 days before the race.

More: How to Taper to Boost Performance

Pre-Race Preparations

Non-running elements of the taper include proper nutrition (often including an emphasis on carbohydrates before a long race), hydration and recovery such as ice bathing, foam rolling and massage.

Carbo-loading, or increased intake of carbohydrates before a big race, helps to top off the body's energy stores with fuel that can be used during the race.

Ice bathing, foam rolling and massage keep the legs clear of lactic acid and inflammation in the days leading up to the race.

More: 10 Self-Myofascial Release Exercises for Runners

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About the Author

Sarah Crouch

Sarah Crouch is a three-time Olympic Trials qualifier and a professional long distance runner for Reebok and ZAP Fitness. She is also a coach for Runnersconnect, an online community for athletes of all abilities and a team of expert coaches who assist with all aspects of training. Sarah is dedicated to bringing the best out of athletes at all levels of the sport from beginners to advanced runners.

Sarah Crouch is a three-time Olympic Trials qualifier and a professional long distance runner for Reebok and ZAP Fitness. She is also a coach for Runnersconnect, an online community for athletes of all abilities and a team of expert coaches who assist with all aspects of training. Sarah is dedicated to bringing the best out of athletes at all levels of the sport from beginners to advanced runners.

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