Running and Tapering

Tapering Before a Running Race

A common term thrown around in the weeks leading up to a big race is “taper.” To the beginning runner, this word has seemingly nothing to do with running. In reality, tapering is a process that can make or break a runner’s goal race. Below is everything you need to know about the tapering process.

What is Tapering?
Tapering is the act of drastically reducing the amount of running in the days or weeks preceding a large race. For a marathon, tapering typically occurs in the three weeks before the race, while a 5k taper may last one or two days. Physiologically, no more fitness can be gained in the 10 – 14 days leading up a race. The taper is especially important for marathon runners, as this period of limited exercise gives muscles time to repair and to “absorb” the training. When tapering for shorter distances, taking 1-2 days easy before the race ensures that legs will feel fresh when it is time to step onto the starting line.

What Happens to the Body During Taper?
As you start to taper, particularly for a long race, your body begins to go into recovery mode. Your immune system, which has been working in over drive, begins to relax and you may become more tired while your body uses energy for recovery processes. Despite running less, you will also have an increased appetite. This is due to your body requiring extra fat and protein for muscle recovery. It is important to eat wholesome foods during taper.

How Does the Body Feel during Taper?
Most runners often feel down in the dumps and out of shape during taper. Decreasing the amount of running can lead to moodiness and feelings of inadequacy after periods of diligent training. As energy levels increase from lack of running, runners may feel that energy is translated into nervousness. Many runners report their legs feel heavy or dead during runs, which is a normal side effect of recovering muscles. Runners may also experience body dysmorphia and the sudden feeling that they are “heavy” or “overweight.” While these are experiences that are entirely normal, runners should realize they are not factual and that changes in running routine can cause the brain to experience feelings of withdrawal, which can result in irrational thought. Many runners refer to these symptoms as “taper tantrums” or the “taper crazies.”

What are the effects of taper?
If tapering causes hunger, irritability, fatigue, what is the point of taper? From a physiological standpoint, tapering is necessary for helping you arrive at race day with optimal energy levels, glycogen stores, and freshness. Without taper, completing a race is certainly possible, but may not result in your fastest finishing time. Giving your body time to fully heal, refuel, and rest is just as important as completing the training. Runners who skip this important step often feel sluggish during the race and even run the risk of injury.

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