Most runners know about tapering for marathons and half marathons. But are they necessary for shorter 5k or 10k races?
Actually, if you want to run your best 5k or 10k, a taper can give you that extra push for PR after all your training.
In this article, we cover why tapering is important for short races and how to do it. Read on to learn how to run your fastest race yet!
What Is Tapering and Why Should You Do It?
Tapering systematically reduces your training load in the two weeks before your race. So, you’ll gradually do less and less exercise on those days until the day of the race arrives.
But why, you ask? Well, the purpose of this reduction in load is to allow your body some time to rest and recover from the stringent training regime so it can be well-rested on the day of your race.
Research indicates that reducing your training by 40 to 60% in the two weeks prior to your race is the optimal way to increase performance gains.
It may seem counterintuitive to train less as race day approaches. But don’t fall into the trap of pushing through at the same intensity or load—you’ll be at a high risk of crashing hard during your all-important race or developing debilitating injuries soon after.
Tapering puts you in the best position to take advantage of the training gains you’ve made while in a semi-rested state. Taper correctly, and you’ll be in the best place possible to hit a new PR in your race!
Why Is Tapering for a 5k and 10k Necessary?
Most of what we read about tapering starts at a half-marathon distance. Naturally, these training plans are much more strict and longer than plans for a 5k or 10k, so the taper is exponentially more important here.
But while you can run a 5k or 10k without reducing your load, why wouldn’t you taper if you’ll have a chance of running faster? This simple act of lowering your training volume for a few weeks could become your secret weapon for performance.
Plus, tapering means you’re giving your body what it needs, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time. It’s the right way to approach a race, and if you get into the habit with your 5k and 10k races, it won’t feel like a foreign or difficult concept when you graduate to half-marathons and marathons!
How to Taper For a 5k or 10k Race
Your 5k and 10k tapers are going to look pretty similar. It’s important to know that tapering looks and feels different for every runner, so don’t have any expectations—just go ahead and do it and see how you feel on race day.
Aim for 7 to 10 Days of Tapering
Seven days is probably a more appropriate number for a 5k race, while ten days would make more sense for a 10k. If you taper for too long, you’ll be sluggish and unprepared fitness-wise, but too short, and you’ll be fatigued.
So, you’ll begin your taper one week before race day if you’re doing a 5k and ten days before race day if you’re running a 10k. Work this into your calendar so you don’t miss your starting day!
Reduce Your Mileage
The key to tapering is to reduce your mileage. Not drastically, but noticeably. On day one of your taper, cut back your mileage by 25%.
So if you were supposed to run 10 miles that day, for example, run 7.5 instead. If you were aiming for 3.1 miles, you’d do 2.3 miles instead.
A few days into your taper—7 days out for a 10k, four days out for a 5k—reduce that distance to half what you were doing before. So, if you would have run 5 miles on the day, run 2.5 miles instead.
This can be extremely frustrating! Don’t be tempted to think you’re doing too little. When you’ve been running twice the distance easily, it can be a horrible feeling to finish up at such an easy level… But trust us; it’s worth it!
Maintain Your Running Intensity
It’s essential to understand that while you cut back on distance, you must keep the same running intensity. That means you don’t lower your pace—keep running at the same speed, but finish your run at a shorter distance.
A taper isn’t about having a week of recovery runs! If you’re running a tempo run today, stick to your pace; just run for half the distance or ¾ the distance. Scientific studies have shown that the most important factor in a successful taper is holding the intensity constant but reducing mileage.
It’s also important NOT to increase your intensity to compensate for the lower mileage! Make sure you stick to your pace, no matter how hard it may be. Think about it this way—you’re also building discipline and mental strength!
Stop Strength Training
If you’ve been doing strength training as a form of cross-training, it’s a good idea to give it a rest for these 7 to 10 days. You can keep doing mobility sessions like yoga, but stop anything that could be too strenuous or lead to injury.
Again, don’t be tempted to break this rule! The last thing you want to do is drop a weight on your toe or pull a muscle in the gym… And miss your race, or suffer through it because of the pain.
Rest and Recover
Rest and recovery are important parts of tapering. Despite the fact that you’re not downing your intensity, you should put a little more effort into your recovery routine in these 7 to 10 days.
Take stock of your body. Do you have nagging pains or aches that could benefit from more TLC this week? Spend some time foam rolling, go for a massage, ice any niggly areas, and make sure you get enough rest. Maybe catch a nap or two!
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Don’t use your taper as an excuse to let your diet go! Keep to the same level of calories, but don’t fall into the trap of giving in and choosing ice cream over fruit, for example!
Hold tight and stay the course for these 7 to 10 days. Once the race is over, you can have a cheat meal before returning to a training program for your next race.
5k and 10k Tapering Strategy
Your tapering strategy will depend largely on the training plan you’re doing. We can’t tell you which days to do an easy run and which ones to do a tempo run—that all depends on the plan you have in place.
What we can tell you is how to reduce your mileage. So here’s a quick overview of how you should structure your 5k and 10k tapers for the best success.
5K Tapering Strategy
Follow this tapering strategy and pair it with great nutrition, excellent sleep, and mindfulness.
- 7 days before race: Reduce mileage by 25%.
- 4 days before race: Reduce mileage to half of regular mileage.
- Day before race: Rest and recover.
10K Tapering Strategy
The 10k tapering strategy is similar to the 5k, but a little longer. It also needs to be paired with smart eating, good sleep, and mindfulness!
- 10 days before race: Reduce mileage by 25%.
- 7 days before race: Reduce mileage to half of the regular mileage.
- 4 days before race: Reduce mileage by a further 20%.
- Day before race: Rest and recover.
Tapering Mistakes to Avoid
Some silly mistakes can ruin a good taper. Don’t let yours be! Here are the most common tapering mistakes that you need to avoid at all costs.
Exercising Too Hard
We get it. Lowering your exercise volume as the race approaches can be extremely difficult. It’s instinct to train harder… But that’s only going to tire you out the closer you get to your race.
Not lowering your training volume by the recommended amount or increasing your intensity can set you up for failure in your race. Stick to the recommended volume limits and avoid the temptation to go harder!
Exercising Too Little
On the other hand, it’s important not to treat your taper like a rest week. The most common mistake here is reducing both volume and training intensity, which means you’re just doing a very easy recovery week.
If you stop training, you’ll lose fitness, even in one short week. You’ll shoot yourself in the foot instead of preparing for your race.
Doing Something New
Don’t try new exercises, clothing, or nutrition in the week leading up to your race. With anything new, there’s a learning curve. And with that learning curve, there could be a higher risk of injury or illness.
New sports or exercises could put you at risk of injuring yourself. If you want to enter your race as healthy and strong as possible, resist the urge to do something new to take your mind off the taper.
Using New Gear
This is a common one. It’s tempting to get yourself a nice new pair of shoes or a new outfit for race day and choose to break them in during your taper.
But new shoes can lead to injury or blisters, leaving you hobbling through your race in agony. Or, choosing a new outfit can chafe you in places you didn’t even know existed.
Stick to the tried-and-true shoes, clothing, and accessories in the week and a bit of your taper. You’ll be glad you did!
Changing Your Nutrition
Throughout your training plan, you should have been experimenting with nutrition. So by this time, you should know what works best for you.
Trying something new could cause an upset stomach… Something that takes a few days to recover from, and you don’t have a few days to waste. Stick to what’s been working for you, so you aren’t unpleasantly surprised on race day.
Not Getting Enough Sleep
Rest is crucial during your taper. Ensure you get at least 8 hours a night and good quality sleep. Darken your room, make sure it’s quiet, and keep the temperature comfortable.
Sleep is when your body regenerates and builds strength. We can’t overstate the importance of resting properly. Don’t neglect this element!