A “taper” is an extended period of ‘reduced’ training during a programme, usually lasting between 1 and 3 weeks in the build up to an important competition or meet. Tapers are used to achieve peak performance levels, and to elicit the benefits from the previous training block. Although used by many coaches in many sports, the casual endurance runner may not taper appropriately and can damage their performance output on race-day. A 2021 paper found a 3.12% improvement for females, and 2.14% increase in males following a 2-week taper, with a 3-week taper leading to similar results, and a 1-week taper leading to a decrease in performance.
This doesn’t mean that strength training should be used alone to improve performance; it must be done alongside endurance training in a method known commonly as concurrent training.
So how I do I go about tapering?
Firstly, reducing overall mileage gradually (typically a decrease to 60% in Week 1 of the taper then 40-45% in Week 2). Secondly, maintaining the intensity of your strength training but decreasing the volume sufficiently and progressively throughout the taper. Thirdly, ensure energy levels are as high as possible for race day by avoiding taking on any new physical activities or sports. It is key to consider the individual responses to a taper, both physically and mentally – it is about finding what works for you and sticking to it for future races.