The Fast Lane

For stronger pre­race prep, you need to know the art of the per­fect ta­per.

Runner's World South Africa - - Contents - BY ALEX HUTCHIN­SON

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The big race, when it fi­nally ar­rives, is a test you can­not cram for. We all know this in the­ory – but in those nervewrack­ing fi­nal weeks, it’s hard to re­sist the urge to squeeze in ex­tra kilo­me­tres or faster reps. The prob­lem? If you give in to temp­ta­tion, you’ll be miss­ing out on some cru­cial phys­i­o­log­i­cal changes that hap­pen only when you bal­ance the stress of reg­u­lar train­ing with the rel­a­tive ease of your ta­per.

One ex­am­ple: when you ta­per prop­erly, your leg mus­cles ac­tu­ally get mea­sur­ably big­ger and more pow­er­ful. A univer­sity study of cross- coun­try run­ners found that the post-work­out re­sponse of a gene associated with mus­cle size quadru­pled dur­ing the ta­per pe­riod. Other benefits in­clude a boost in oxy­gen- car­ry­ing red blood cells and a re­duc­tion in stress hor­mones, re­sult­ing in a two to four per cent im­prove­ment in race times.

To strike the right bal­ance be­tween rest­ing up and main­tain­ing fit­ness, you have to con­sider how long you’ll spend ta­per­ing and how much you’ll cut your mileage, how of­ten you’ll run, and how hard you’ll work out dur­ing that time. Nail­ing the ideal mix will let you ar­rive at the start­ing line ready to take full ad­van­tage of all your hard work.

Run­ning Fre­quency

Re­duc­ing your mileage doesn’t mean spend­ing ev­ery other day on the sofa. Aim to main­tain roughly the same fre­quency of runs and hard work­outs, but make each of them shorter. For ex­am­ple, if you usu­ally run 10 x 400 at the track, ad­just to 8 x 400 two weeks be­fore race day and 6 x 400 in the fi­nal week.

Work­out In­ten­sity

This is trick­ier than it sounds, but you should keep the pace of your ta­per runs – par­tic­u­larly your hard work­outs – roughly the same as your train­ing runs. Cont i nui ng wi t h in­ter­vals, even though you’re do­ing fewer of them, is cru­cial to avoid los­ing fit­ness dur­ing the ta­per.

Du­ra­tion

Run­ners gen­er­ally ta­per for one to three weeks. The ‘ right ’ length de­pends on how much you trained: the more fa­tigue you’ve ac­cu­mu­lated, the longer you need to re­cover. Ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent ta­per du­ra­tions; when you find your­self bounc­ing up stair­cases with a spring in your step a few days be­fore your race, you’ve found the right one.

Vol­ume

A meta- anal­y­sis of 27 dif­fer­ent ta­per­ing stud­ies con­cluded that the best re­sults come from cut­ting mileage to 40 to 60 per cent of your nor­mal load. The higher your mileage, the more you’ll need to cut. In a multi-week ta­per, cut your mileage pro­gres­sively. For ex­am­ple, run 80 per cent of your nor­mal mileage in the first week, then 60 per cent in the fi­nal week.

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