Taper Time. Why?
Picture this, you feel like you are in the best shape of your life, you have a race in the next week or two, and your coach and/or your training plan tells you to ease off a bit, calls it a “Taper”, and you suddenly feel like you are losing all your fitness. Sound familiar?
I can confirm that no one is trying to do this to you to make you lose your fitness. Despite how alien this concept might feel, a taper for a race is super important. A taper can be defined as “a systematic reduction of training volume and sometimes intensity. Done for the purpose of recovery and often done prior to an important event”.
The idea is to have you as rested and ready for your event as possible. If you keep training at high intensity right up until your event, the chance of you being exhausted and performing well below potential is highly likely.
In a taper period (usually 1 - 3 weeks, but depends on the race distance), you can expect to see reduction in training volume and often intensity. You might still have the odd tough session, but this will usually be in a shorter duration to what you are used to.
In order to fully lean into the taper, it helps to understand the primary benefits that can come from having a good taper:
Increased glycogen stores
Repair of micro tears in muscles and connective tissues
Increased mental freshness
Decreased chance of injury and sickness
Increased red blood cells and total blood volume
There is really no need to be concerned that you will lose fitness in your taper phase, as long as you have bouts of intense exercise integrated into a taper, there will be no loss of fitness. Additionally, muscular and cardiovascular benefits of exercise are not realised until at least 7 to 10 days after an exercise session.
You might still feel like you are just eager to run and have too much time on your hands though. So, why not spend the time planning for the upcoming event and ensure that you have everything else in check? Focus on your mobility and stretching exercises, nail your nutrition and hydration, and take some time to study the course map of your event and make sure any race day logistic plans are in place.
The hard work is done, enjoy the downtime, and remember how far you have come!