Taper Time!

"Coach Mo, how do you taper before an important race?" Sally, Cape Town I often see how athletes work so hard for months preparing religiously for a big race and when it all needs to come together on race day, the spark is missing.

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Young couple: man and woman run together on a sunset on lake coast. Silhouette.
For our example we exclude injuries or getting sick. We’ll only look at how you might have left your best effort at the previous week’s time trial or never fine tuned the diesel engine to perform on the day.

To answer your question, let’s look at two race scenarios. First a one-day Classic like PuFfer or Otter, and secondly a stage races like Dryland Traverse or AfricanX.

Taper for a one-day race

For a one-day event you only have one opportunity to get ahead. A typical week before the race should be full of regular running, but cutting down on your volume. For instance if you ran four times a week 60 minutes at a time, reduce that in your taper week to 30 minutes.

Early in your tapering week, include a short but hard interval run:

  • 10min warm-up
  • 4 x 4min at 5km race pace with 1min rest
  • 10min cool down

Another crucial aspect is to run your last long slow distance run at least two weeks before your race. Run only 40% of that the weekend prior to your race. On race day be up early and go for a shake-loose 15-20 minute run with a few short accelerations. You can also use this technique for stage racing. Alter warmup distance depending on the duration of the stage.

Taper for a stage race

For a stage race you can rest completely  for three days the week before, then start gaining momentum slowly with also just 50% of your regular training. It should be as if you had your rest, then start clearing the rust going into the first stage. Remember that the best way to prepare for multiday stage running is to incorporate it in your training program. Back to back long runs, or a tempo run in the morning followed by a long slow distance run in the afternoon can get your brain to prepare your body for the scenario you will face.

See you on trails – run well!

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