Getting fit and fast is not the only factor to guarantee success on race day. Correct training will ensure you peak at the right time, which is on the day of your event, and correct tapering will ensure you arrive fully recovered on race day. Peaking and tapering require a fine balance between ensuring full recovery, while maintaining performance adaptations.
The taper is the period of reduced training volume prior to a major event.
The goal of tapering is to ensure that you are sufficiently rested and optimally fuelled. Running training causes muscle damage and fatigue and also depletes carbohydrate stores within the muscle. This taper period allows the body to recover fully and maximise carbohydrate stores without compromising fitness, so that peak performance can be achieved during an important race.
Incorrect tapering, along with overtraining, is the best way to ruin your race day! It can lead to injury, fatigue and lowered performance.
Depending on the length of the event, your taper will vary. For long events such as marathons and ultra marathons, the taper is usually around 2-3 weeks. For a half marathon, 7-10 days is usually sufficient.
During the taper you should significantly reduce your mileage, but maintain the intensity of your training. This gives your body more time for rest and repair, but continues to maintain your fitness level. The quantity of training is reduced, not the quality! A good guideline is to reduce your weekly training mileage by 25%, two weeks prior to the event, and by 50% in the final week.
Massage is another tool which many athletes use to aid the recovery process. If you are accustomed to receiving massages, then you can book some during this period; but I would not suggest having a massage too close to race day, as this can leave you feeling rather sluggish and lethargic. Try to book your final massage at least four days before the race. If you have never had a massage or do not have them regularly, I would not recommend you have one in the week before the event.
It is also not recommended to have a complete rest day the day before your event. Rather have your rest day 2-3 days before your event, and ensure that you do a short run with a couple of pick-ups the day before. Including these short sprints will ensure optimal muscle firing and recruitment.
Individuals also respond differently to tapering, so it is important to figure out what works for you. Remember these are merely guidelines based on research; it is best to find out what works best for you.
- Continue to follow your usual healthy, balanced training diet during the taper. This, together with tapering, will be sufficient to maximise muscle glycogen stores for a 21km event.
- Be sure not to skip meals or snacks on the days leading up to the event. Take extra care with food hygiene.
- Choose well-cooked protein and avoid raw fish and shellfish (e.g. sushi or oysters) as well as undercooked meat and eggs (e.g. burgers)
- Stick with foods you know you can tolerate
- Don’t try anything new or risky
- Avoid junk food if you can help it
- Reduce alcohol intake in the week leading up to the race; and ideally, avoid alcohol in the 24 hours before the race.
Novice Training Programme: March 2013
This programme is aimed at people doing their first 21km, or if you have not been running in a while and need to build up your fitness slowly.
|25 FEB||REST||RUN 35MINS RPE = 7-8||REST||RUN 50MINS (include 4 x 3min hill repeats, with jog down as recovery)||REST||RUN 35MINS (with 25mins RPE = 8)||RUN 2HR15 RPE = 6-7||4HR15|
|4 MARCH||REST||RUN 30 MINS RPE = 6-7||REST||RUN 45 MINS RPE = 6-7||REST||RUN 30MINS RPE = 7||RUN 1HR15 RPE = 6-7||3HRS|
|11 MARCH||REST||RUN 35MINS RPE = 7-8||REST||RUN 1HR (include 8 x 400m fast, with 90s rest)||REST||RUN 40MINS (with 30 mins RPE = 8)||RUN 1HR30 RPE = 6-7||3HR45|
|18 MARCH||REST||RUN 30 MINS RPE = 6-7||REST||RUN 30 MINS RPE =6- 7||REST||RUN 30 MINS (with 20 min RPE = 8)||RUN 1HR RPE = 6-7||2HR30|
|25 MARCH||REST||RUN 25 MINS RPE = 7||RUN 35 MINS (include 4 x 400m sprints, 2mins recovery||REST||RUN 20 MINS (with 4 X 30s sprints, 2mins recovery)||RACE!|
*RPE = Rate Of Perceived Exertion
Do the majority of your base training easy or slow. RPE is one of the best guidelines to use regarding intensity of training and is based on your perception of how hard you feel you are running.
|6 – 7||Easy||Breathing easily, and able to talk.||60 – 70%|
|7 – 8||Moderate||Only able to speak a few words at a time due to heavier breathing.||70 – 80%|
|8 – 9||Hard||Unable to talk and breathing hard.||80 – 90%|
So if you are doing easy sessions (RPE of 6–7), and especially during your long run, you should be able to hold a conversation comfortably. If you are unable to talk, you are running too hard. Alternatively, if you are running too slow, you will not be working hard enough to test your physiological systems and your body will not need to make any adaptations, which will mean that you’ll remain at the same level.
Is this programme to easy for you? Try the Two Oceans experienced half marathon training programme here.
About the coaches: Training programmes by Kim & Richard Woolrich, a husband and wife team who both work as biokineticists and coaches at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa. Richard has a 21.1km PB of sub 70 minutes, and Kim a best under 90 minutes.