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Taper Vs. Recovery Week

There seems to be a growing confusion and poor methods being used lately with what to do the final 1-3 weeks leading into a race. An all too common story I hear from athletes reaching out for coaching after poor race after poor race is “I had a great buildup but my legs just felt flat on race day”. Ever experience this? Well maybe your taper was to blame. It’s a shame to see months of hard work be sabotaged in the final days before the big goal. This is why hiring a coach and following a good program can be so beneficial. If you look at the Hardloop training plans or any elite training programs you will notice there is no slacking off in those final weeks or days before a race. Yes, there is less work and more recovery but here are some tips for peaking on the day: Your final two weeks will see a large reduction in volume (mileage) compared to the last two month but will see a continuation or even increase of quality and speed. The reason is your aerobic engine has been built (see previous blog post on base mileage), and while we are going to maintain your fitness with light running through the week we are not looking for any large gains or to deplete your glycogen stores more than we can reload before the race. “The hay is in the barn” as they say. Going any more than 3-5 days without running will start to show some decrease in overall fitness and this is what we don’t want to happen. These final two weeks are also a great time to spark those faster pace energy systems, preparing to feel comfortable with running fast. For a marathoner the final weeks will typically include two longer repeat sessions, in the 3-5 kilometer range, run at or slightly faster than goal marathon pace. Come race day your body feels fresh and refueled from less mileage but not shocked by the pace.

Do’s and Don’ts: Don’t do any workouts that are going to leave you feeling sore. Rather than having your body trying to get back to normal health, repairing damaged muscle, you want it recovering beyond your previous strength levels. Don’t do any long, glycogen depleting, workouts. It can take days to fully reload your carbohydrate stores which are hopefully are at full capacity for your race. Don’t hammer your final workouts. You should be feeling strong which will make it very tempting to exceed your workout goals, resist the urge. It’s very common for athletes to leave their race in their workout. Listen to your coach, trust your months of training, save that final effort for the race. Do add some strides/accelerations after a few runs that final week of training. The fast turnover will keep your nervous system primed and ready to race. Do increase your sleep, a term I like to call “sleep-loading” which can be more beneficial than carbo-loading in my opinion. Do take some time off once your race week is over, that is the time to relax and recover. I love reading through some of the all-time greats training logs from back in the day, these guys did not taper like we know it today! Stories of setting 5k and 10k personal best time’s (and world records) days before running world record performances in the marathon. Legends winning multiple distance events only days apart at the Olympics. Your training schedule mimics and prepares you for race week in many ways, any drastic change to the rhythm and routine you've developed with be a shock to your system.

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