For those new to running the term “taper” refers to the point in a running training program where fewer miles are ran and more recovery takes place in preparation for race day. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, running less before a race can improve your time.

Fewer Miles:
The amount running reduced is directly proportional to the length of the race. For example, training for 5k and 10ks, taper starts 5 to 7 days before a race; half and full marathons are up around 7 to 14 days. At the beginning of the taper, many training programs, reduce the number of miles run by 15% to 20% each week leading up to the race. The week before race day, one is running about half the miles normally run.

Same Intensity:
While dropping the number of miles ran per week is part of a train-up, slowing down is not. Runners should maintain the same competition intensity within 20% of their peak during their training program to prevent a loss of fitness.

Taper Non-Running Activities:
Running less is not the only recovery activity runners should use. Massages, stretching, ice baths and foam-rolling all benefit the body; some runners even use acupuncture. Couple these activities with the proper amount of sleep and good nutrition and you have a recipe for success. Don’t expect to get it perfect the first time. With a fair amount of tinkering over time, you’ll perfect that part of your training program.

It’s Not Just for Your Body:
Running less before a long competitive race is imperative to get your body into peak form. However, recovery of your mind and spirit are just as important; the body does what the mind tells it to do. The breathing, relaxation and meditation parts of yoga, along with its stretching and flexibility component, proves beneficial to many competitive runners.

Stick to the Plan:
By running less, you’ll have more time to think about your taper and making some changes mid-stream; avoid these thoughts! Stay the course. Now is not the time to make any changes outside the plan, such as a new pair of running shoes, new athletic apparel or even unknown changes to your diet or sleep. Stick to the tried and true!

Any change outside the plan this late in the game could result in a setback – something you don’t need before a big race. By following your plan, you’ll arrive at the starting line knowing you have done all that you could to run your best race!