Looking back over my training log, I notice that I have never intentionally tapered for a race. I usually take a day off running the day before the day before the race – no running, for example, on Friday, followed by an easy 3-5 miles on the Saturday morning before a Sunday race. This probably explains why last summer’s 5K PR was a bit of a surprise. I missed three days of running before the race and only entered at the last minute. In retrospect, it is obvious that not only did I accidently taper for the race, but that it was an effective taper – I took about 30 seconds off my best 5K time. You may ask why I didn’t look back over my training log and see this lead up to a big PR as something that should be replicated. I blame training for a half marathon later in the fall. I was increasingly consumed with getting in my miles and was worried about being able to race the distance, and failed to notice that tapering actually seemed to help. I have, therefore, decided to pursue a systematic taper before next Sunday’s 10 mile Winter Series race in the hope of capturing a few Grand Prix points, but also to see if tapering is something I should be doing.
In my research into tapering, I ran across an article, “Tapering: Short and Fast Is Best,” written by Chris Stockdale for the Washington Running Report (http://www.runwashington.com/news/1135/310/Tapering-Short-and-Fast-Is-Best.htm). Stockdale’s article recommends tapering the week before a race with a series of short, yet intense, intervals and a drastic decrease in distance. This quality over quantity tapering method is based on the idea that “speedy tapering” will help to stockpile more carbohydrate fuel in leg muscles, will augment blood volume, enhance leg muscle enzyme activity, and will keep nerves and muscles “primed” for racing. Muscle priming is crucial to maintaining muscle tension, which helps to prevent that weird, flat, feeling that one can experience if you take a day off immediately before a race.
Having experienced the benefits of an unplanned taper, I am now going to proceed with a systematic taper and report back next week about the results. I felt I bit of destiny when I ran across Stockdale’s article, because the McMaster University study that it was based upon used subjects that were running 45-50 mile weeks – I have been doing 40-45 – and Stockdale’s model race for tapering is a 10 miler. Here’s the plan: on Monday, I will do 5 x 400 meters at 5K race pace with easy recovery between the intervals. Stockdale recommends walking between the intervals until comfortable. I usually run 400 meters recovery at about 8:30-9:00 minute per mile pace. I promise to try walking – I’m not going to like it. Tuesday is 4 x 400; Wednesday is 3 x 400; Thursday is 2 x 400; Friday is 1 x 400 and Saturday is absolute rest from running. This is all very straightforward. Just typing this out, however, makes me freak out a bit – this is not a lot of running and the walking between intervals makes this look rather easy. The McMaster “speedy taper” results, however, were “dramatic” as Stockdale tells us that the “endurance times from the speedy taper improved 22%.” I like those possible improvements, so I am going to follow this plan to the letter and report back next week. Here are some final questions: Has anyone else successfully pursued a “speedy taper” plan? Any other taper plans that I should check out? What types of tapering before races do you typically do?