How to taper for your running race

Getting your taper right can often be the difference between a great run and running well below your expectations.

All the training you have been doing is probably focused on one race and that burning desire to run faster than you have run before; you want to run a PB. In order to do that you need to be on the start line in the best shape possible, but also not to be too tired from the training you have done before. This is why before all big races elite athletes will have a phase in their training known as the taper. This is the ‘rest’ period between finishing your last hard session and the race itself, however you don’t want to get this wrong having worked so hard in training.

Here are four mistakes you need to avoid during your taper.

1) Not resting enough

There is a fine line between doing too much, and not doing enough the week before the race. You want to be on the start line with your legs feeling fresh, your mind clear and with a positive attitude ready to run. The worst thing you can do is start to panic that you have not done enough training and you start smashing in the sessions, and running quicker during your steady runs in an effort to get fitter. There is a piece of advice I was told early on in my running years and still rings true. Nothing you do in training the week before the race is going to make you fitter, all you can do is make yourself more tired. Don’t leave your race in the training leading up to it. Be fresh, be sensible and above all don’t you dare do anything you haven’t done before…

2) Resting too much

As I mentioned above, this is about getting that balance right. You want to keep “ticking over” the week of the race, you want to put a little work into the legs but nothing you can’t recover quickly from. This might even be just a couple of easy runs with some strides at the end. This means you won’t get to race day and feel lethargic because you’ve been sat on the sofa all week gorging on carbohydrates. If you are unsure of how much or how little to run, the general rule of thumb is to do about 20–30 per cent of your usual mileage, a couple to three times that week but spread out if possible. I do VERY little the day before a race, apart from a short walk around the park. If you’re still not sure, ask someone that has done it before. Just have that little voice in your head saying “nothing you do this week will make me fitter for the race”.

3) Relax

Try to do things that take your mind off the race and don’t waste energy getting nervous for the race, especially the whole week before the race! Stick to your normal routine and if possible stay off your feet as much as possible. Drink a lot the week of the race and make sure you’re doing everything to be ready. You can also take on board carbs in drinks, so not only will this help you hydrate it will also mean you are carbo loading.

4) Have a race day plan

You want things to go as smoothly as possible on the actual race day, and to do this you need to make sure you know where you need to be, and what time you need to be there. Get everything ready the week before, you won’t be running as much so use that extra time to make sure you have your vest, shorts and number ready to go. Pin the number on your vest, know which start you have to get to, and also work out how long it takes to get there. I would always get to the start area earlier than the stated time, purely to beat the toilet queues! Also, you can use this time to gently warm up and give yourself the headspace to calm your nerves before you make your way to the start line. Make sure you stick to your plan, and you know what you are doing.

Another great piece of advice a fellow runner gave me to think about when I’m standing at the start line: ‘Remember, you cannot control any of the external factors on race day; whether that be the other runners, what the weather will be like, what the race conditions are, etc. The only factor you can control is you and everything you have done in the lead-up to race day.’ So ensure you focus on that and control the controllables.

Have a great race and smash that PB!