Tapering

Tapering for a race is a highly debatable topic amongst runners. Some runners strongly believe in it, while others feel it weakens the training program and almost entirely avoid it. I know one thing for sure: the more you taper, the sorer you will be post race.

I know this sounds weird that extra rest would lead to extra soreness, but it's true. Basically what occurs is by giving your legs extra rest you are beginning to “un-acclimate” them from the rigors of peak training. However, it is also my belief that by not tapering at all you don't allow your body the time needed to be at 100 percent come race day. It really becomes a battle of deciding what races you want to make your primary focus, taper for them, and ultimately pay the price of a little more recovery time before once again entering the grind. My personal belief is you have to experiment with it, and find out what works best for you. Again, this is a debatable topic, but over the years through trial and error I have found what works best for me. Typically, I taper on a mix of calculated percentage and feeling. The percentage portion is based on my peak mileage. For example, this training cycle I peaked my miles at a technical 171 miles in one week's time. I use this number to decide how much I will run the weeks leading into an important race. Below is an overview.

Three Weeks Out

Assuming my body is feeling good, I will run slightly less than peak mileage when I'm three weeks out from race day. Based on my number of 171 this training cycle, this ended up being approximately 150 miles. I will usually incorporate a workout (sometimes two, depending on how fresh I feel and how far into the season I am). For the purpose of ultra racing, this workout usually entails some form of hill repeats (unless I am so blessed with the opportunity to get to Lapham Peak and grind out a few laps on the black diamond trail).

Two Weeks Out

When I reach the two-week period I drop my miles quite a bit. Once again it depends on how I am feeling—I really try to listen to my body at this point—but usually I average right around 100 miles during this week. This puts me at about 60 percent of peak mileage. If it's early in the season, I will include some small hill workouts, a tempo run, or some pickups one time during this week. Later in the season, I try to capitalize on a little extra recovery. Some runners benefit by tapering speed and other runners benefit by tapering distance. I tend to benefit from tapering away speed (especially with ultras).

One Week Out

With a week to go, my taper really kicks into gear. I usually aim for approximately 30–35 percent of my peak miles the six days leading into the race. Ultras are usually held on a Saturday, so this means that I will run about 45–60 miles in the six days leading up to Saturday. Typically, this includes a longer run on Sunday, and a gradual decrease per day leading up. For example, on Sunday I might run 15–18 miles; drop to 10 miles a day for Monday, Tuesday and possibly Wednesday; 7 miles on Thursday; 5 on Friday. It really depends on how my body feels. I might take a day off if I'm feeling rundown, sick or nursing an ailment. Below is a list of what I did the six days leading up to the JFK 50.

Sunday 18 miles
Monday 10 miles
Tuesday 10 miles
Wednesday 10 miles
Thursday 7 miles
Friday 5 miles
Saturday Race Day! 50 miles