Tapering to perfection


You’ve been following a training plan for months now and with 4 weeks remaining before race day you should be planning your final long run. This is your last chance to get some big miles under your belt before you start to taper.

If you’ve been sticking to a training plan, great, keep it up. This blog is designed to help you approach your taper period in the right mind-set.


Tapering improves performance

Tapering is an essential part of marathon training preparation, but why do we do it? If you’ve been building towards marathon distance, why would you want to reduce your training load as the event approaches?

The simple answer is that science show us tapering strategies can improve performance by up to 6%! It’s a proven strategy to ensure peak performance by reducing training fatigue.

The taper is all about transitioning from the preparation phase of training to being physically and psychologically ready for competition.


Getting the load just right

Reducing your training load during a taper is a great way to reduce accumulated fatigue, however, reduce the load too much or in the wrong way and you risk undoing some of your hard work!

There are 3 main components to training load that need to be considered:

  • Intensity (how hard you’re working)
  • Volume (the length of your sessions)
  • Frequency (number of sessions per week)

Research shows that intensity is the key element to maintaining your training induced adaptions and preventing negative effects of a taper. This means you should still be running hard during your taper. You should maintain a similar ‘rate of perceived exertion’ during your runs to what you were aiming for during the pre-taper phase. If you’ve been doing interval training or stairs sessions too, these can remain high intensity.

When it comes to training volume it has been shown that this component can be markedly reduced without negatively affecting performance. By reducing total training volume by 41-60% you can maximise your performance gains. This should be the focus of your taper. In other words, make your runs shorter.

Frequency is the final variable of training load and it represents how many runs you are completing in a week. Most of the research in this area shows that reducing frequency during a taper neither improves nor decreases performance. However, maintaining routine is important so it’s usually recommended to uphold a similar number of runs each week.

Basically, to get the most out of your taper you should maintain the frequency and intensity of your runs, but you should reduce the distance by about half over the taper period.


Duration of the taper

Most taper periods are between 1-4 weeks long. The perfect taper period is individual and depends on how hard you’ve been pushing yourself in the weeks before tapering. If you’ve pushed your limits and you’re feeling exhausted, perhaps a 4-week taper would be best for you. On the contrary if your training has been a bit patchy you may only need a couple of weeks.

Perfecting the duration takes experience and a good ability to listen to your body. For most of us however, around 3 weeks seems to be the sweet spot between optimising performance and avoiding the negative effects of de-training. For now, it’s probably best to stick with what’s in your training plan.

marathon training

Enhancing your recovery

Some of the finer details you should consider during your taper:

1. Reducing muscular fatigue

Massage and compression garments are the two main modalities that come to mind here. There’s little evidence that massage and compression garments can improve performance for marathon runners, but there is some to suggest they may help with recovery. My advice is that if you’re not keen on using either I wouldn’t bother. If, however, you are someone who swears by either massage or compression garments then that’s a great reason to continue doing the things that work for you.

Massage can help reduce soreness after exercise, so Guernsey Therapy Group will be at the finish line providing post-race recovery massages. Come and see one of our physios after the race for massage and advice.

2. Sleep

This is where most of your rejuvenation will come from. If you struggle to sleep at times a warm shower before bed or meditation could help you to get those important extra hours.

3. Nutrition and hydration

It goes without saying that nutrition and hydration are critical for successful preparation. Starting a race with poor hydration or low glycogen stores will have significant consequences for your ability to perform or even finish the race.

Match your macro-nutrient intake to your training load and keep your urine light yellow to clear.


Managing injuries

“Patch it up, fix it later”, is how the saying goes. Many runners run with pain and can carry on just fine. The taper period gives you a little extra time to get some symptomatic relief from your injuries while you wait until after the race to get them addressed properly.

If you have any concerns, Guernsey Therapy Group are your go-to physios for all running related pain. Your physiotherapist will be able to diagnose and treat your pain and get you back on your feet again in no time. Give us a call on 232 900.

Disclaimer: The advice in this blog is general in nature and may not take into consideration your personal circumstances. Always consult your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment.


About the author:

Mitch Hamer – Specialist MSK physiotherapist

Mitch is a runner and a physio. He’s the lead MSK physiotherapist for Guernsey Therapy Group, Team Physio for the St Jacques Vikings rugby team and has represented Guernsey internationally for Touch Rugby.

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