We’ve all heard of a taper for long races like a half marathon or marathon. But tapering is just as important for shorter races like 5ks and 10ks. In this article, we’ll discuss how to taper for a 5k or 10k race.
We’ll begin by discussing what tapering is in the first place, and how you can incorporate it into your short distance racing strategy and training plan. If you’ve never thought of tapering for a 5k or 10k before, now’s the time to start!
What is Tapering?
The official definition of tapering is to diminish toward one end, or to narrow gradually. If you think of a taper candle, it starts off thicker but then becomes thinner at the top. This is how you can envision tapering in your running routine.
Typical training plans systematically build volume and intensity over time. It makes you tired, but also makes your body stronger. To take advantage of that new strength, you also need to be well-rested. So, at the end of a training block, you gradually diminish the amount of miles you run.
The rationale behind tapering is that physiological adaptations from training take a week or so to truly set in. Hard workouts the week before a race don’t actually benefit you in time for that race. You can say a couple weeks out that “the hay is in the barn.” In other words, the training that makes you a better runner is over, and now it is time to turn your attention to be in top form for the race itself. The involves being well-recovered from hard training. Racing goes best on trained yet fresh legs.
How Do I Taper for a Race?
No matter what distance you’re running, the way to taper is always the same, and it helps prepare you for race day.
Depending on the length of the race, you’ll start reducing your mileage 1-3 weeks ahead of the race. This means that if you’re averaging 20-30 miles a week, you’re going to gradually start reducing that in the weeks before your race.
The idea is that you need to reduce your volume so that your legs aren’t overworked come race day. You’ll arrive at the start line well-rested and fresh for your race. If you’re constantly pounding the pavement, they will still be tired on race day. You can certainly race that way, but it will be hard to perform any better than on your hard workout days.
Even though you’re reducing mileage, you don’t need to reduce the number of days that you run. Instead, keep running the same number of days. Just run fewer miles on those days.
Keep Running Intensity Steady
However, reducing your mileage doesn’t mean doing only easy runs. You still want to keep your running intensity steady. The idea isn’t to weaken, but to reduce. That being said, you don’t want to push hard every workout even if that’s what you have been doing (hopefully not!)
Keep everything in moderation. Don’t crush yourself with a tough track workout. At the same time, tapering does not mean staying on the couch. There is a middle ground, and that is where effective tapering lives. Just enough intensity that you’re pushing yourself, but not enough that it’s too much. Hence, the focus on the word steady.
Rest (If Needed)
During your taper, you don’t need to include more rest days than usual unless you need it. You might consider taking an extra rest day if you’re sore or sick. Giving your body the rest it needs is important if you want to run your best on race day.
Even though you don’t need to take more rest days, you should definitely make sure that you’re getting enough sleep.
Sleep is extremely restorative and helps build the muscles back up that you broke down through exercise. Make sleep a priority. You may want to try to get ½ hour extra sleep each night the week before your race.
Tapering also gives you the opportunity to spend some time with family and friends and to take a mental break from pushing yourself so hard during your training plan. It’s helpful to clear your mind before you have to race.
Eat Healthy & Stay Hydrated
You don’t need to become a vegan or vegetarian if you aren’t already one during your taper. But you should be focusing on eating healthy and staying hydrated. Hopefully at this point that doens’t mean making any big changes – you don’t want to change your diet up too much. You should be avoiding fast food and highly processed foods, and maybe even alcohol.
The same foods that power effective training will get you ready for your race. Focus on eating fresh, healthy foods and good carbohydrates. Make sure that you’re drinking the fluids you need. Being dehydrated on race day will slow you down quite a bit and could do serious damage to your body.
Not sure you’re drinking enough water? Just pinch the skin on the back of your hand. If it snaps into place quickly, you have enough water in your system. If not, you’re dehydrated and should go drink a glass of water.
Pay Attention to Nagging Injuries
If you have any nagging injuries or soreness, you should definitely address them during the taper. Take some time to give yourself a little TLC and spend some time foam rolling, massaging, or icing any affected ideas.
If you have a partner or a willing family member, this is the time to ask them to rub out your legs so that they feel nice, relaxed, and fresh for race day!
What is a 5k/10k Tapering Strategy?
The strategy for tapering is the same for both race distances. It should start 10-14 days before your race. That means if your race is on a Saturday, then you can start the taper two weeks before or at the latest, two Wednesdays before your race.
1st Week of Taper (2 Weeks From Race)
During the first week of the taper, do speed work simulating your race. For example, you might want to do mile repeats at your race pace. If you don’t remember what a mile repeat is, that’s simply running a set of miles intervals, typically at race pace, with a period of rest in between.
Three mile repeats for a 5k and six for a 10k is an example (although 6 x 1-mile at race pace is a hard-core workout. Feel free to shorten that to three or four repeats). This is a great way to tune up and see if your body is ready to run your goal pace.
Additionally, you’ll want to cut back 25% on your total mileage, including your long run. If you typically run 20 miles a week, cut it back to 15 miles, including your long run from 8 miles to 6 miles.
2nd Week of Taper (1 Week From Race)
Again, during this week, you’ll want to do another speed workout, but this one should be shorter than the prior week. You should definitely hone in on your race pace. This allows you to make any adjustments/improvements from last week.
For example, 10k runners can still do mile repeats, or dial back to 800s. 5k runners also probably want to do 3-4 ½ mile repeats.
This week, you want to cut back on your total mileage by 50%, get plenty of sleep and stay hydrated, and take a full rest day two days before your race. The day before your race you should do a short shakeout run.
Your shakeout run should last no more than 30 minutes, and it’s supposed to be a very easy run or light jog. You’re just trying to get your blood flowing and get all the bad stuff filtered out.
While it kills any runner to have to reduce their mileage and miss a couple days of running, tapering will make a huge difference in your performance on race day. Because you’ve taken a step back, you’ll be itching to go come race day and your body will be ready.
If you haven’t considered a 5k or 10k taper before, hopefully it’s something you’re planning to implement. Fresh, strong legs mean wicked fast times!