Running in the 'Meda: Tapering your training

Running in the 'Meda: Tapering your training

Marty Beene

Today marks three weeks and two days until the Bay to Breakers race. To me, that means we are close to when my "taper" should start.

If you are new to running or if you aren't that familiar with training for races, this might be an unfamiliar term. Tapering before a race means to reduce the training load so that you feel relatively fresh on the day of a race.

There are many opinions about how long the tapering period should be to optimize one's performance for a race. Some people will dial back the training load for only a few days before a race, while others will reduce their training efforts for as long as three weeks.

Which approach is "right"?

The answer, of course, is, "It depends."

For runners who plan to run races periodically over a number of weeks or months, taking a week of relatively easy running is enough to get your body to a point of feeling fresh and strong on the day of the race. When training for one specific race, a longer tapering period of two- to three weeks makes sense. The reason that length of time is good is that the adaptations our bodies make to training stimuli require about that period of time to take effect.

For example, if you're training yourself to complete a marathon, the longest single run you do should be scheduled no closer than two weeks before the marathon itself. When your body experiences that long run and wants to change parts of your physiology to accommodate the possibility of doing it again, it needs at least a couple of weeks to accomplish that. Doing a long run a week before the marathon won't help you.

Does that mean you can just sit around on the couch and eat chips for three weeks before your race?

It would actually seem logical to answer "yes" to that question if it's going to take that amount of time for your body to reap the benefits of training, but, alas, that isn't the case. While training adaptations aren't completely understood, it is the case that those benefits you hope to enjoy two or three weeks after certain key workouts only seem to happen if you continue to train during the interim. If you stop training, it appears that your brain figures that out and sends signals out to "stop construction on that lung capacity" or whichever adaptation is appropriate.

"Continue to train during the interim" could mean many things to different people, but the rule of thumb is that you should do some easy runs, plus whatever training will keep you sharp. If you're trying to run a specific time, you should continue to do some kind of speed training, but the volume of it should be kept to about half of what you have been doing. For me, that would mean doing, say, a two-mile tempo run instead of four miles. The intensity can still be high as long as the volume is significantly reduced. This approach is to continue to remind the muscles what to do, but not to stress them out too much.

My case is a little tricky for tapering because the race I'm actually most interested in taking place two weeks after the Bay to Breakers: a track race down in Hayward. So I have to figure out a kind of double taper. I'm planning for an "easy" week the full week before Bay to Breakers week, then my standard countdown taper the six days before the race (seven miles, then six, five, zero, four, three). The next week will be mostly three- and four-mile easy runs, with something quick at the end of that week. The week of my track race will be another countdown, but with at least one session that has some good ol' fashioned speed in it (but not too much).

In other news, I found results for 11 of the 12 Alamedans registered for the Boston Marathon this past Monday. John West, who finished in 3:02:57 in conditions described as "brutal" by another friend, was the fastest for the group. John was followed by Hallie Von Rock (3:11:31), Ruben Ramirez (3:18:03), Russell Dawson (3:19:33), Lisa Oyen (3:30:59), Kathryn Hofstetter (3:33:57), Emily McCallon (3:45:22), Scott Deskin (3:48:26), Heather Zunguze (3:49:29), Vanessa Yingling (3:52:55), and Shelly Lampe (3:54:19). Congrats to all!!

Marty Beene, a USA Track & Field certified coach, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups, and registration for his Mountain Running Retreat in June is now live - visit his web site for more information. Marty, who ran a Boston qualifying time back in 2004, can be reached at


Submitted by Vanessa (not verified) on Sat, Apr 25, 2015

Congratulations to all Boston runners! Are there any weekly long runs in Alameda?