We’ve all heard of a taper for long races like a half marathon or marathon, but did you know that it’s 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 tapering into your 5k or 10k racing strategy and training plan. If you’ve never thought of tapering for a 5k or 10k before, here’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.
You’ll start off with a solid base that you’ve built up from weeks of running, and you’ll gradually diminish the amount of miles that you’re running in 10-14 days leading up to your race day.
The reason behind tapering is that you want to back off a little bit so that you don’t peak too soon and run your best before the race and so that you can allow your body to heal from weeks of training to be a force to be reckoned with come race day.
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 and instead are well-rested and feel fresh for your race. If you’re constantly pounding the pavement, they will still be tired on race day.
Even though you’re reducing mileage, you don’t need to reduce the number of days that you run. Instead, keep running around the same number of days, but just run less 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!)
You’ll want to keep everything in moderation. 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 extra sleep 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. You don’t want to change your diet up too much, but you also should be avoiding fast foods and highly processed foods.
Focus on eating healthy foods and good carbohydrates as well as making sure that you’re drinking the fluid that you need. Being dehydrated on race day will slow you down quite a bit and could do serious damage to your body.
If you’re not sure if 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, you’ll want to 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 run a mile typically at race pace with a period of rest in between.
You’ll likely want to do 3 x 1 mile repeats for a 5k and 6 x 1 mile repeats for a 10k. 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. That means 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, but might want to do fewer like 3 or 4 x 1 mile repeats. On the other hand, 5k runners probably want to do 3-4 ½ mile repeats.
This week, you’ll 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 the day before your race.
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 his or her 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!