I’m Going to Intentionally Taper for a Race: You Heard it Here First

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?

4 comments on “I’m Going to Intentionally Taper for a Race: You Heard it Here First

  1. Drew says:

    I do taper, but have not tried the speedy taper plan (never heard of it). Typically what I do is cut my mileage in half and run two days high intensity, one real easy day, and, two days before the race, I will do an indoor cycling class at light intensity to keep my legs loose. Last year I averaged 24-miles a week peeking out at about 31 ahead of my last two half marathons. I am not convinced that much mileage helped me out in the penultimate week of training.

    My workout plan this week in preparation for Sunday’s “Frostbite 5-miler” is as follows:

    Monday: 1/2 hour yoga class + 1 hour of my own personal boot camp (lots of plyo and strength)
    Tuesday: 30-minute tempo run with peek speed just short of race pace
    Wednesday: 5×400 at 1-mile pace. Note, I do walk for up to 0.1 mile in-between intervals and finish my recovery with a light jog.
    Thursday: 1/2 hour pilates class + 55-minute indoor cycling class
    Friday: Light 2 or 3-mile run
    Saturday: Rest
    Sunday: 5-mile race

    I am interested in your results from the speedy taper plan. I have a 10-mile race on February 24th and will try it out if you indicate a strong positive result.

  2. Drew says:

    I was reading an article about tapering and came across this article on strides…would interested in your take on this.


    • This is a very comprehensive article on strides. I’m happy you pointed it out to me. I have tried doing strides after runs in the past, but have never been very consistent. I think I may have been trying to do them too quickly. I almost always felt the starting of a hamstring pull doing them after a long run, so I was very leery of continuing. I think I will slow down just a bit and see how it goes. One thing I specifically avoid is doing strides minutes before the start of a race. The potential for a muscle pull, as well as priming yourself for a jackrabbit start is way too high. I usually spend the first quarter mile of a race telling myself to relax and slow down a bit. The other key thing to remember with strides is to really concentrate on running form, which can be difficult if you do them after a long run.

      • Drew says:

        Agree – I am leery in both situations. I did meet someone at one of Alex’s cross country meets that swore by them – she had been doing them for a couple months after her long runs.

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