Journey2Ultra Running Coach Journey2Ultra

Tapering for an Ultra-Marathon or Trail Race

Tapering for a race is the final piece in the running training plan.  How do you approach tapering?

With UTA fast approaching, the next key part of your training plan is the taper.  Tapering is defined as a

Progressive non-linear reduction of the training load, during a variable period of time in an attempt to reduce the physiological and psychological stress of daily training and optimise sports performance.

A bit of a mouthful, let's simplify it down!

Whilst the last piece of the training jigsaw, don’t worry too much if you don’t get your taper right.  It can be as much art as science and is individual to you and the race.  Don’t overthink it too much.  Remember as above, it’s about reducing stress, not adding to it.

Tapering allows your body to repair and replenish in preparation for race day, whilst not reducing your running performance.  It is about reducing the negative aspects of training (fatigue) and building on the positive ones (fitness).  This will leave you fitter and psychologically prepared for race day. So how do we taper?

The key principals I use as a coach are, reduce load and keep intensity. How can we practically apply this? Let’s break the taper into four areas, volume, intensity, frequency, and terrain.

Volume - The first part of any taper is a reducing your running volume.  Drop your volume initially in the first week of the taper quite quickly and then level off in the second week.  As an example, if you start with an overall volume of 8 hours per week you should reduce to about 4 hours in the first week and then down to 2 hours in the second week and two hours maximum in the last week.

Intensity - The tapering aim for intensity, is to reduce the volume of your intensity and not the type.  Similar to how you would reduce overall volume you drop intensity quickly initially and then more slowly toward the end of the taper period.  As an example, if normally you have completed 4 X 5 min. hill repeats, this would become 3 X 5 min and then 2 X 5 min and then the last week, 1 X 5 min.  The key part for intensity is to maintain it during your taper.

Frequency - Should be kept the same. If you are running 6 days a week, keep running 6 days a week.  If you're doing specific workouts i.e., a hill session or stair repeats, don’t stop doing those specific workouts.  Remember the rules though for volume and intensity.

Terrain - Whatever terrain you have been training on, now is not the time to change that.  If you have been running trails, keep running trails.  Likewise, if you have been on the road, stick to the road.

The final part of tapering is the “Taper Tantrums!”  You may feel you are losing fitness or missing training, and the couple of weeks spent tapering will seem to go on forever.  Self-doubt may creep in and you will become a lot more irritable.  This is absolutely normal and everyone goes through it in some form.  Embrace it as part of the process.  You can distract yourself by reviewing training logs, Strava etc. to further enhance the trust you should have in your training, and all those kms run and vert climbed.  Plan and pack your kit, and do not obsess. 

Finally remember, regardless how your taper goes, very few races went wrong due to a bad taper. The training is in the bank and done now, enjoy the day on trails!