‘Tapering’ or winding down your training before half marathon.

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With a number of runners I’ve been working with currently preparing for Autumn half marathons, especially the Oxford half in October, I thought this might be a timely post.

A lot of runners, especially newer runners, have been asking me about how to taper or wind down their training before a half marathon event. They understand that they need to be fresh on the day but are afraid of losing their hard won fitness so often err on the side of doing too much too hard. This is partly down to inexperience too because they are not yet in tune with their bodies sufficiently to know when they are fully recovered from previous efforts.

Of course, the tapering process depends a lot on the fitness level and other activities being performed by the individual. Asking a sedentary offie worker to sit down and do nothing for a whole week prior to a race might not be the best strategy. On the other hand, for somebody who does a hard physical job, this could be an appropriate strategy, given that they are keeping themselves very mobile in between running sessions.

Assuming you don’t fall into this latter category, the aim should be to gradually reduce the training load over 2-3 week’s prior to the race, IF THIS IS A KEY RACE THAT YOU WANT TO DO WELL IN.

Let’s say your longest run takes place 3 weeks before the event and it’s 15 miles at an easy conversational pace – this is a reasonable scenario. 3 weeks before this you might have done perhaps a 10k race and then a 5k park run with 3-4 weeks to go. Again, this would be a reasonable build up to inject a little pace into your legs, having established a sound aerobic base. You might have done a few speed sessions over this time too over maybe 400-1500 metres, but not overdone it because you know that aerobic efficiency is key over this distance.

So now you just gradually wind down the length of the runs and reduce any speedwork. So 3 weeks out you might do a 10 mile long run, 2 weeks out maybe 8 miles, then 6 miles the week before. Equally, slowly cut back on any medium or short runs, but don’t increase the speed of these either. Most new runners should not do anything intense at all in the final week, although sometimes I like to just throw in a mile or two of half marathon race pace running within one of the medium runs in the last week, just to remind the body what it feels like.

So the last 2 weeks should be aimed at absorbing all the hard training you’ve done, not trying to increase fitness or make up for sessions lost etc. The result of this latter approach will be a lack of freshness on the starting line. Focus instead on keeping yourself mobile and relaxed – maybe do some brisk walking, myofascial release, yoga, massage, swimming etc.

It’s foolish to try to give ‘one size fits all’ tapering regimes because they need to fit around your life. A general principle might be to reduce run training load by 25% in the penultimate week before the event, then another 25% in the final week.

What about those last few days? Well I like to get out the day before but just for a very short easy run, just to get things moving. The day before that might be an easy swim or a walk. Earlier in the week, after the (by now much shortened) ‘long’ run, perhaps a 4-5 mile easy run. The rest, just easy non-running recovery activities, like those mentioned above.

Generally speaking the longer the race and the more important a good time is, the longer the taper will be and the longer the recovery will be. A good marathon will probably require 3-4 weeks of gradual tapering, a fast 10k 1-2 weeks, an impressive 5k just an easier than usual week. Much depends on your experience and you as an individual though – these are just general guidelines.

Above all, the key thing to remember is to undercook it rather than do too much. It’s what you have one over the previous months and years that really matters and it will take a lot more than an easier week or two to make you lose that fitness.

For individual help with this or other aspects of your run training, why not give David a call or text 07504439555? Or email davidperry57@sky.com.

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