How to Taper for Your Road Race

Tapering isn't just for marathoners. In fact, one recent study showed a huge performance benefit when subjects tapered for a 5K.

Here's how to taper for four common road-racing distances:

5K

Cut your normal mileage in half the week before your 5K race, but maintain some intensity. Early in the week, run 4 x 400 meters at your 5K goal pace with a 200-meter jog between repeats. Later in the week, jog two miles, then run 6 or 8 x 100-meter strides at 90 percent of maximum speed. Run easy the other days.

10K

Same as 5K taper, except run your 400-meter repeats at your 10K goal pace.

Half-Marathon

Start cutting your mileage two weeks before the race. The first week, run 75 percent of your normal mileage; the final week, run 50 percent. The first week, run 4 x 800 meters at your 10K race pace with a 400-meter jog between repeats.

The final week, run 4 x 400 meters at 5K race pace with a 200-meter jog between repeats. A few days before the race, jog two miles, then run 6 to 8 x 100-meter strides at 90 percent effort.

On track days: 1) Wear the shoes you plan to use in the marathon; 2) jog four laps before and after the workout; 3) walk or jog slowly during the recovery interval.

On "easy" days: 1) Run no faster than marathon goal pace; and 2) add walking breaks if you plan to walk at times during the marathon.

On rest days: Don't even cross-train. Rest.

Marathon

While you need to stop doing long runs in the final weeks before a marathon, you shouldn't stop doing fast runs. These will keep you sharp. Some good, basic speed workouts to consider during your taper:

  • 4 x 800 meters at 5K race pace, with a 400-meter jog between repeats
  • 6 x 400 meters at slightly faster than 5K race pace, with a 400-meter jog between repeats
  • 2 x 1 mile at 10K race pace, with an 800-meter jog between repeats

On track days, wear the shoes you plan to use in the marathon, jog four laps before and after the workout, and walk or jog slowly during the recovery interval.

On rest days, don't even cross-train. Rest.

Eat Smart

"Runners often eat way too much while tapering," says Liz Applegate, Ph.D., Runner's World nutrition columnist, "and they end up gaining weight and feeling sluggish on race day. Your body can store only so much glycogen. If you eat more calories than you need, your body stores those extra calories as fat."

The bottom line is that by simply staying on your normal diet which should contain 60 to 65 percent carbs you'll be carbo-loading without even trying.

Here are some dietary do's and don'ts that apply to the last three days and especially the last 24 hours before a marathon:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially in warm weather or if you have to catch a flight to the race.
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol, which hampers glycogen storage.
  • Try to avoid foods that are high-fat, high-fiber, spicy, gas-producing, or unfamiliar, especially the night before the race.
  • Don't gorge yourself the night before the race. Instead, eat a dinner of 800 to 1,000 calories, such as a baked potato topped with stir-fried vegetables and tofu.
  • About three or four hours before the marathon, you may want to have a snack. Studies show that people who eat 500 to 1,000 calories a few hours before a marathon perform better.
  • Consider eating some cereal with nonfat milk, a couple of pancakes, or a big slice of leftover pizza (minus the meat topping and extra cheese). Do this only if you have tried it before a long run in training and know that your digestive system can handle it.

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