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  • Writer's pictureCarlie Pipe

The Mighty Taper

Updated: Nov 27, 2018

Who's tapering for their race right now or about to start? Listen to this episode for talk on how to taper, how not to taper, how long your taper may last and all of that good stuff. Good luck on your next race!

Runnin Bout: The Mighty Taper

Corey: Welcome to the latest episode of Runnin Bout, I'm Corey McClean.

Carlie: And I'm Carlie Pipe, I got my name in, I remembered, it's my turn.

Corey: The whole name.

Carlie: Yes.

Corey: So, this week we are talking about something that is integral to running and racing well, we're talking about tapering.

Carlie: One hundred percent tapering.

Corey: So, the first thing we're going to talk about is, what is tapering?

Carlie: Well, all I know, kind of, is like it's the period of time, the calm before the storm when you're getting ready to race and you're like, let me back off a little bit. I mean I'm sure there's a proper definition.

Corey: There probably is a more scientific definition, but I like to look at it as what the word says, you're going from a larger amount to a smaller amount progressively over time and we're talking in terms of mileage.

Carlie: Yeah.

Corey: Right. So, your weekly mileage and your weekly intensity you'd basically bring it all the way, well not all the way, but you bring it down to a point where your week leading up to race day, you are at a lesser volume in terms of mileage than you were a few weeks ago.

Carlie: So that you are the storm on the start line.

Corey: Yes.

Carlie: That's exactly right, you are the hurricane, you are ready. I'm actually in the taper right now. I have two races coming up. I'm in the taper and I think they're actually a lot of races coming up early December, so I think a lot of people...

Corey: Well, it is marathon season, racing season the world over, so this is the time when you're going to see a lot of half marathons, a lot of full marathons, even like 5Ks and 10ks.

Carlie: You can taper for a 5 K?

Corey: Of course, you can, you can taper for anything.

Carlie: I can't remember the last time I properly would have tapered for, I probably never properly tapered ha ha. No, but for a 5k I think there have been so many 5 Ks like normally between September to about now. There are quite a few 5 Ks that show up on the calendar and almost every one is done for me as a tempo workout after a long run.

Corey: But you see that's the thing because as your level, a 5k is like an addition to your regular workout, so you are tapering for a 5 K would be counterproductive.

Carlie: Yeah, and I need some time to be able to do that too because like I'm more like looking at like long goals. So, for my half marathons that are coming up, I've been training for them since like the summer kind of vibes. That's what I'm training for, I'm not training for a 5k, I'm training for a half marathon.

Corey: Exactly. So, when you look at what you're doing because if you are training towards a half marathon, even a 10 K, a full Marathon, whatever, then that is your goal. Anything else that you do in between there is just part of your training.

Carlie: Is it? Yeah because I can imagine it must be problematic to taper too often. Think like a three-month period, if you said oh, I have a 10 K here and a 5k there and a half marathon there [03:20 overlapping talk] that's called resting, not tapering.

Corey: You would never actually hit a level of intensity to have any kind of growth, any physiological changes happening. So, you would not have the training effect, so the progressive overload just wouldn't happen. So, talking about tapering, your goal at the end of the taper is to go into race day as fresh and as recovered from your three months or four-month training cycle where over this time you would have gone through that progressive overload, over time.

Carlie: How long should my taper be?

Corey: It depends on the race that you're doing. So, obviously for a full marathon, which is a much longer distance, much longer training distances, and much heavier training, intensity than a 5 K, obviously the tapering is going to vary. For like a full marathon I say three weeks of taper, a 5K you can taper one week.

Carlie: Yeah. Okay. Now, what does the taper look like because first walking into that - I would have said oh that means you just basically like rest. Don't you just sit on the couch with some Netflix and taper? I mean like that's….

Corey: That's like a full engine stop, that is not going to work.

Carlie: That's not what we want to do.

Corey: That's not what we want to do, we want to just gradually bring down the intensity. So, we have progressive build up over three months and this is a progressive build...

Carlie: Drop down?

Corey: A build down, a decrease, and progressive decrease over your next three weeks or so. So, obviously then that comes from somewhere, that comes from your longest and hardest week. So, over your three-month period as you ramp up and cycle on and off over that period of time, your final four weeks or so of your training period you will then hit what is your heaviest week in terms of intensity and your longest week in terms of your long run on your weekend.

Carlie: Like your mileage.

Corey: Exactly. And when you come off of that then you're going to reduce your weekly percentage in terms of mileage by about 20 to 30% per week.

Carlie: So, what we're basically doing is taking our hardest longest week and reducing both the intensity and the volume. So, we're not stopping we're just backing off the gears a little bit trying to sort of like freshen our bodies up but staying sharp.

Corey: Right. So, this is an example I found on, they say for example if your highest mileage week was 40 miles you would cut your mileage by 8 to 12 miles. For example, week one of your taper would then be 28 to 32 miles.

Carlie: Right, and then week two of your taper, which is the week right before the race, you would bring it down a little bit.

Corey: You bring it a little bit again. And they also say that then during your taper period you're running intensity should be at your goal race pace, but no faster. So, your interval workouts they're completely out now. Your tempo runs they're generally completely out as well, too. So, you're going to probably hit your race pace and no faster than that over that period.

Carlie: Now, before the race is not the time to start trying to go faster than your race, you should have done that before. Don't wait until too late because when you're in the taper, that's it, you're not going to be able to do, frankly speaking, when you've hit that taper period, say 10 to 14 days before your race, you can't now throw in a hard gym session and think that that's going to help you.

Corey: Especially the gym stuff because, your legs, you need time to recover.

Carlie: Correct.

Corey: The whole point of your taper is that you go in feeling fresh and fast, all right.

Carlie: Fresh and fast, I like that. I'm going to get a tattoo that says fresh and fast on my forehead. No, just kidding, on my back because that's what everybody is going to be seeing while I'm racing, yeah. Right, so you can't just now throw in a hard gym workout and expect that you're going to see some kind of benefit to you, it's too close to a race.

Corey: You'll not suddenly knock-off 10 minutes off your race time.

Carlie: You should have put in the work before.

Corey: Exactly. So, at that point when you start your taper, you have put in the work as they say the hay is in the barn, and you've just got to trust your training at that point. Anything else that you want to change after that you change when you start building for your next race.

Carlie: Trust the training and trust the taper. I like that for sure, definitely. So, like what's happening to our bodies during the taper? You were saying we want to be fresh, we want to be feeling fast, so obviously our muscles are going to be healing. We've torn them up during training, our muscles are going to be healing that's one thing for sure.

Corey: And hit those lovely goals that you would have picked up along the way. The intensity takes a toll, so you really want to give your body a chance to just take a deep breath and just like, you know what let's do some general housekeeping here and let's start fixing these long micro tears and all that good stuff.

Carlie: Correct. Ok cool.

Corey: So, obviously then to assist that, let's talk about eating because now you want to fuel this process too. So, then you want to increase your protein intake during the start of your taper so that your muscles have the amino acids and what not in order to rebuild.

Carlie: So, eat your chicken, eat your fish, get in all your beans, all your proteins, and your steak if you're so inclined.

Corey: Yeah, and if you're doing supplements, then you know your protein powders and all that stuff, your BCAAs all that option.

Carlie: So, try to get that in early in the taper so that your muscles have more time to heal up.

Corey: Correct.

Carlie: Now I did read about that you shouldn't eat too much like pasta and all that kind of stuff too early in your taper because it isn't going to help you too early on, it'll just make you a little sluggish and you might even gain a little size. I mean, I don't know.

Corey: Because think about it, if you are packing on the carbs, but you've cut your training intensity, your body doesn't have the outlet for this carb so it's obviously going to store it. So, our buddies store excess carbs as fat and that's exactly what's going to happen. So, you will be hindering rather than helping your performance.

Carlie: So, eat protein for sure early on during your taper, save the carbo-loading for the day before, I guess.

Corey: Yeah, drink a lot of liquid for sure.

Carlie: Yeah, drink a lot of liquid, don't drink a lot of alcohol.

Corey: Or coffee.

Carlie: No, no, no. I can't repeat those words. I don't need someone to say Carlie said you shouldn't drink coffee because I can't imagine not...

Corey: Because the thing is anyone listening to us that knows us knows that we are not cutting coffee at any point for any reason.

Carlie: Not happening at all especially not the day of the race, I need my coffee in the morning of the race like that's my long run. Normally on a morning before I train, I don't bother with the coffee I just go in and I'll have coffee after obviously. But on my Sunday long runs I need that cup of coffee before my long run to wake me up, get me out and give me some kind of fuel.

Corey: A little zing.

Carlie: Zing, exactly, a little zing. So, they say don't drink coffee because it's a diuretic but that's up to you all. I definitely said don't drink, so like for your whole taper you don't drink alcohol or just like the last five days or like do we have any idea how long?

Corey: For me, two to three weeks prior to any competition, no alcohol, yeah.

Carlie: The eyes are lying though, I mean the lips are saying those words as though they're true but let me tell you the eyes are lying. I know that's actually probably one of the harder parts for me. Like I said right now, I'm in a taper and I'm not drinking alcohol and the temptations are there, I love my wine and champagne.

Corey: My last competition, I think it's probably two weeks before, I was out, and it was the food and rum festival, my God.

Carlie: What a waste, just kidding. So, did you not sip any rum?

Corey: I had some that night and then like the next time that we were out I just like looked at the glass and smelled it longingly.

Carlie: Yeah just get the notes straight.

Corey: Yeah, just smell it longingly but that was about it.

Carlie: That's so funny, I would feel guilty after.

Corey: I'm not like a heavy drinker but at the food and rum festival you kind of need to eat the food and drink the rum.

Carlie: Exactly. I'm getting into sipping rums too.

Corey: I'm a whiskey man.

Carlie: Okay. Well, I could get into whiskey then, but we'll have to do that off my taper because then people will think that we will drink alcohol during our taper which hampers your glycogen storage and therefore not something that we will do. So, you also want to eat a lot of fresh fruits, vegetables. Like we said don't eat excess carbs too early in the taper. So that's your food and your drinks guys. Another important aspect, I think, is to talk about mental rest, like your emotional rest.

Corey: Oh, yeah for sure.

Carlie: Because to me, long distance running is a lot about your mental, so what you bring to the start line, what's going on in your head?

Corey: And that's the point. There is this page I follow on Instagram and they have these shirts and it says running is mental and it's true because I can tell you if you're in like a half marathon, there comes a point where you start having these long conversations to yourself.

Carlie: Do you answer back?

Corey: Yes. Yes. I remember trying to convince myself to get to my intended pace and it wasn't happening, so I said it out loud, I said Corey, Corey, the pace, what are you doing?

Carlie: And the person next to you was kind of like aaahhh.

Corey: That's not my name.

Carlie: That's so funny. Oh my gosh, but I totally agree with you. I think like you have to have conversations with yourself where you have to tell yourself you can do it, you can do it, you can do it. And like for me even leading up to the, like all right now every run that I do, be it easy, be it hard, whatever, I am picturing myself on the road during the race crossing the finish line, starting, doing the race, I'm visualizing. I'm not really one of those hokey-hokey people but I really believe in visualization.

Corey: Visualization is very important. For my beginners what I like to do with them is literally, in the weeks leading up, as they're running, I'll tell them, okay this is where you are on the run and I'll use like visual landmarks. So, for Run Barbados, they got ready for Run Barbados, so I tell them, okay, so you're now coming on to Bay Street and you just made that turn, you just passed St. Patrick's. Okay so you're passing Harbour Lights now and then you can see the traffic lights, you can hear the crowd, do you hear the music? I ask them to do you hear the music?

Carlie: They are like “yes, we hear it.”

Corey: And they generally think I'm a little crazy...

Carlie: But you are anyway.

Corey: I am a little crazy. But they think I'm a little crazy while we're going through this but on race day when it starts to happen and they realize but hold on, I am at the lights and I can hear the crowd and the music, this is all the stuff that Corey was saying …because on the day your coach can't be there with you. You have to be out there on your own and you have to be able to silence the negativity when it comes up.

Carlie: It's coming.

Corey: And it will come. You will want to stop, you will want to slow down. So, you going to have that inner conversation that is telling you it sucks. I know it sucks, it's supposed to suck, if it wasn't sucking, you're doing it wrong.

Carlie: Correct. Absolutely. You know what you should do, you should record yourself like talking motivationally, so that they can put in their iPod and listen to you as they're finishing.

Corey: That would be very cool.

Carlie: Yeah, so you would have to copyright though, copyright that idea.

Corey: A little kickback on the royalties.

Carlie: Yeah. Also, on the topic of mental equity or Acuity or whatever.

Corey: Acuity, yeah.

Carlie: I find like if I'm running a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot I'm starting to get mentally tired and it's harder to push myself. And being able to back off of that as we said back off the intensity, back off the volume, lower your mileage, it refreshes my mind so that I have more energy in my head to be able to tell myself yeah, let's do this.

Corey: Sure.

Carlie: Definitely. So, now in terms of the wording, now we're talking about tapering, what about peaking? A lot of people use the words maybe interchangeably, are they the same thing?

Corey: With the goal of tapering, it's for you to peak, right? To perform at your peak. However, by definition, with peaking, if that is what you're doing because they're different schools of thought. If you're going to peak, you would not taper because tapering suggests that you reach a peak and then come off in terms of intensity.

Carlie: Yes. Okay. Yes.

Corey: But peaking then refers to your performance on race day. So, your training would not then reach a height a few weeks before race day and then come back off. What that would do you would progressively build up, up until race day. Obviously, then you would rejigger how your week is designed so that you wouldn't be overly stressed and tired and all that stuff. But rather you will go into the race and you would perform because you've been just sharpening, sharpening, sharpening, but it wouldn't be a situation where you would get to a point and then you come back down.

Carlie: I got you. So, what school of thought are you?

Corey: I work with tapering much more than the peaking concept, but I was listening to a podcast a couple weeks ago and one of the guys he brought up an interesting point. He said why would you go through a taper and you basically let your body get a little sluggish and comfortable and then on race day you ask for intensity and I was like, okay I understand where you're coming from.

Carlie: It’s kind of making sense if you put it that way.

Corey: It’s kind of makes sense if you put it like that, but I still like you put all the work in and then let it pay off because at the end of the day, any physiological changes will not happen within four or five weeks. So, what has been done up until five weeks out from your race, that is all that is going to impact on race day in terms of the overload and the stresses on your body. If you do a hard workout two weeks before your race, that's not going to help you.

Carlie: Yeah, mentally it might though, you might think it does, you might tell yourself I believe in it.

Corey: So, for the mental side and your mind-body connection what people tend to do is like two days before the race, they'll do a short run.

Carlie: Two days?

Corey: No, three days before the race you do a short run, two days before you do nothing and the day before, depending on if it's like a morning race, if it's a morning race you'll do it the day before, if it's an evening race you can probably do it in the morning. You just go for a short run so that your body remembers what it feels like.

Carlie: My body isn't going to forget what this training has been like, you hear?

Corey: You're doing 57,000 x 200 meters repeats.

Carlie: 57,000. No, but speaking on dropping off on the volume and stuff, so normally I'd said I would do 20 x 200 meters. So, for instance, this week I did 16 instead of 20. So, that's just an example of like where you can kind of fluctuate yourself.

Corey: Yeah, because you have to look at your training and then adjust the levels. It's like you're looking at a mixing board and you're pushing around the knobs, you push the long run up a little bit and pull down the intervals and you push up something else and all that stuff, so you just rejigger the whole thing.

Carlie: Correct. So, let's talk about the wrong way to taper.

Corey: The wrong way to taper is to sit on the couch and eat ice cream. That would be wrong for sure.

Carlie: That is not a taper guys. This is what you do after the race when you're done, so it doesn't mean stop. Tapering does not mean stop, it just means a reduction so that when you get to the start line you are fresh and fast. A taper does not mean suddenly buying new shoes.

Corey: Definitely not. Okay so in that point, things not to do, don't wear new shoes on race day, don't wear new shorts or shirt on race day. Don't wear anything new on race day that you have not run in for at least two weeks. Don't do anything on race day morning that you've never done? Don't go watch a video about Mo Farah and decide you know what, I see Mo eat like a whole chicken, I'm just making this up, Mo eats like a whole chicken and peanut butter before his race I am going to do that too, no. Do what you've done leading up until your race, what you've done in training, do that. If you know for your next race that you want to eat a whole chicken with peanut butter before your race, you need to be doing that during your training to see how your body feels. Interesting point, do you use gels on your run?

Carlie: I do not use gels.

Corey: Why not?

Carlie: I do this thing where I do my long run, and I don't intake anything other than water, to be honest with you, to be very frank, I do not intake anything other than water. So, I think for me like my mind is in the zone where, well first of all, I only do up to half marathons, so frankly, I don't deplete myself so much that I need more than that up to about 25 K. I can do up to about 25 K and I'm cool. If I was doing a 32 K I would take something, and I'll tell you what I'll take.

Corey: But I'll ask the question though, but what is your total moving time?

Carlie: Right. Okay, so that's a good point. So, for 25 K, probably be about two hours.

Corey: Right. So, what I'm saying is, I'm thinking because I'm a little slower than you are, if you're going to be running for two hours plus, so if you're doing a full marathon that kind of stuff, your body tends to break down after two hours and you need to have stuff in because your glycogen can only last for so long. And about that two hours is when your muscles are fully depleted of glycogen, so you need to be refueling your carbohydrates. Because your body will use the glycogen from your muscles and they'll use the glucose from your blood and after that that's it. So, you need to be putting the glucose back in because you can't rebuild the glycogen after you run the glycogen is gone.

Carlie: That's it, so you've got to put it in before it's all used up.

Corey: Right. So, you're putting in the sugars and stuff and that will just be in your blood, that your body will be pulling from but what is already been stored in your muscles from weeks before that's gone, that's completely gone.

Carlie: So, during training I actually don't take in anything, I honestly don't feel I need it. I don't have the feeling where I'm starting to kind of be like hungry or whatever but during a race, I normally take, do not do as I do people, do as I say and not as I do,

Corey: Unless you've practiced it.

Carlie: Unless you've practiced it. I normally have a few gummy bears and I'll take them about 6 K out from the finish so that I have a little sugar to make myself move faster at that point. In training, I don't need that speed in my last 6 K in a training run. But like in a race when I feel like eehh, so I normally would take a little gummy bear which is something I don't do in training, but I do that often enough. Or guava cheese, believe it or not. God, your face, you're like guava cheese that's disgusting! Guava cheese is good hear!

Corey: No, hearing you say that I think I remember seeing you do that, but I think I blocked it from my memory.

Carlie: Right, but I've now reintroduced it to your memory, you have to try to suppress it again.

Corey: Fully gross. Me, I'm different. Back in the day when I used to run half marathons, I've not run one for a little while, but that's beside the point. Back in the day when I was running half marathons, I was the complete opposite to you. I would take like four gels in a half because the gel says to use them every 30 minutes.

Carlie: And use them early before you need them.

Corey: Right. So, if they say to use them every 30 minutes and you want to use them before you need them, I'm taking every 20 minutes. And I had my notes running on my arm about when to take them. Yeah, because you get a little loopy on your run. So, I'd be in a race and I know okay, it's mile 10 I need a gel and some water and then at mile 12 you just water and then get the last bit and then you're going in. So, sometimes you get to a water station and they don't have what you need, so you kind of got to know what you need at which point.

Carlie: Carry your own, man.

Corey: Carry your own, yeah. My gels would be in my pocket, I would depend on the stations for the water and the Gatorade or Powerade or whatever it is.

Carlie: Yes, correct.

Corey: And that was it, but I would always have my gels and I know when I can take them because I have control over that. I remember the first time that I was in a race and I saw like the water sponges and I got a little excited.

Carlie: This is so new and cool.

Corey: This is cool, right? I'm like a real Kenyan. So, I snatched this thing and I'm like, okay so what am I going to do with it?

Carlie: Do I dab my forehead gently?

Corey: So, I squeeze this thing over my whole head, soak my shoes, killed my iPod, it was terrible.

Carlie: That's why you shouldn't try anything new on race day.

Corey: Don't do new stuff, you don't know what to do, don't do new stuff.

Carlie: Don't do it. Anything else you shouldn't do in the taper? You know what you shouldn't do, the last thing I think, don't give in to the temptation to push yourself too hard because when you start cutting back you start feeling kind of pretty, you feel like yeah, I sure got some more juice in my tank. Don't give in to the temptation to see how fast you can go, wait until the race, keep that juice in the tank.

Corey: Save it for the race.

Carlie: Save it for the race.

Corey: And then kill people, I mean, sorry, let it out.

Carlie: Let it all out in the race, yeah. Well, I hope you guys have enjoyed this episode all about tapering, tapering, and peaking.

Corey: Peaking, tapering all that good stuff. Carlie, good luck in Jamaica.

Carlie: Shake hands on that one.

Corey: Shake hands even though no one can see that. So, good luck in Jamaica.

Carlie: Thank you.

Corey: And when you come back, we'll all do Run Barbados.

Carlie: That's correct. We'll do it together and it'll be so crazy.

Corey: We will not do it together, you're doing a half and I'm doing 5 K.

Carlie: Shan't you be watching me?

Corey: At 5 am, no.

Carlie: My heart is now broken.

Corey: So, until next time, subscribe.

Carlie: That's right. You can subscribe on iTunes, look for us it's Runnin Bout on iTunes podcasts, you can hit the subscribe button. You can listen, you can also listen via the website You can find us both on Instagram, I am @flyy.runnerr, Corey is at...

Corey: I am @that_mclean_guy. That McLean Guy.

Carlie: He's that McLean guy not that McLean guy. This has been tapering, so we'll be back again soon, but of course, remember to subscribe and listen. Thanks so much.

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