At this point in the season many athletes are peaking for their championship races. How is this done? Peaking for a middle-distance race (800m, 1500m, 1600m, mile, 3000m, 3200m, 2 miles or 5000m) is best done by utilizing a training method called tapering.
Tapering, in essence, involves the increasing of leg-muscle strength by gradually reducing mileage by 50% over a two week period while continuing to perform speed work. During the taper period, the percentage of speed work should remain consistent with the percentage of speed work that was done prior to the beginning of the tapering period. In other words, if you ran 10% of your mileage as speedwork before you began tapering, you should continue to run 10% of your mileage as speedwork while you are tapering. Taper training produces considerable increases in muscle glycogen concentrations, total blood volume, red blood cell mass, and oxidative enzyme activity, all important factors in improving race times for middle distance races.
Here is the tapering program in bullets:
- Begin tapering 17 days before race day. Remember that tapering involves physiological changes in the way your body adapts to the reduction in workload, so you may experience sluggishness. Don't worry, this is normal. By race day you should be rearing to go!
- For week 1 of taper training, drop your overall mileage by 25% but continue your speed training for 10% of your new, reduced mileage.
- For week 2 of taper training, drop your overall mileage by another 25% while continuing your speed training for 10% of your new, reduced mileage.
- Speed training should consist of short distances with long rest intervals (rest 5 times as long as the repetition). How fast? 2 seconds per 200m or 4 seconds per 400m faster than 5K race pace. Don't overdo it. Your hardest training should be behind you.
- Prepare mentally while you are tapering. Visualize yourself as rested, well-prepared, fast and ready to win the race!
- Remember to reduce calorie intake as you reduce mileage. Let's say you weigh 150 pounds. You burn approx. 100 calories per mile. If you averaged 50 miles per week before tapering, you will run a total of 37.5 less miles (and burn 3750 less calories) during your two-week tapering period. If you continue to consume the same amount of calories as you did during the pre-tapering period, you will have gained over 1 lb. by race day (3500 calories = 1 lb.). Gaining weight will slow you down on race day.
- 3 days before race day: begin light jogging for 2 days.
- Rest completely the day before the race.
- Run your peak time!
Here's a video of a man who really knew how to use tapering to his advantage. Sebastian Coe ran a world record of 1:41.73 in this 1981 800m race.