Tapering is a great way to increase your running ability. It's long been known that conserving energy before a race will help you to feel better longer during the race. It may even allow you to expend more energy during a race.

There have been many studies in which individuals reduced their volume but not intensity of their training. One study in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that runners who tapered their training volume by 85 percent over 7 days improved running economy and 5K performance by 3 percent. That may not sound like much of an improvement but it drops 36 seconds off a 20-minute 5K.

The ultimate message in all of these studies is that improved performance (i.e. faster 5K times) is a result of reducing running volume but keeping 'intensity' high. One warning: reducing both volume and intensity results in slower times. Makes sense, doesn't it?

How Much Should I Taper?

The amount of tapering that you do depends on the length of the race you are about to compete in. The longer the race is, the more tapering will be needed. Let’s get specific:

  • Typical 5K: For those running a weekend race, you may want to consider a half week taper. For example, you may run normal base mileage on Monday and Wednesday with intervals on Tuesday. Thursday, reduce the mileage by one third and include 4 to 6 400 meter intervals at 5K race pace. By Friday, run easy at half of your normal distance. And, by Saturday, you reduce mileage by two thirds to get ready for a Sunday event.
  • Important 5K or 10K: Start scaling back your volume about 10 days before your race. Your goal will be to reduce overall mileage by 50% the week before your race.
  • Marathon: Begin three weeks prior to the race and reduce your training volume 20% per week from your normal levels. Your last long run should be three weeks from race day.

Listed below is a table which details suggested tapering based on race distance:


Last Long Run

Reduce Training

Max Speed Week of Race
5-K 7 to 10 days before race 7 days before race (run easy every other day) 3 to 4 x 400 meters at goal race pace
10-K2 weeks before race 10 days before race (run easy every other day) 4 to 6 x 400 meters at goal race pace
Half Marathon 2 to 3 weeks before race 2 weeks before race (run easy every other day) 3 to 4 x 800 meters at goal race pace
Marathon3 to 4 weeks before race3 weeks before race (run easy every other day)2 to 3 x 1 mile at goal race pace

Throughout each of the race types listed above, you’ll want to continue normal interval workouts and tempo runs. This way, you will continue with the intensity of your workouts and training, while limiting the volume. Properly planned and implemented tapering will help you reach your goals and get to the finish line faster.

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