In my previous blog on the topic of tapering we looked at tapers typically lasting 2-3 weeks. This would be the length of time that I recommend most people take to reduce training load however, there is evidence that 7 to 28 days of lower training loads can be beneficial. As I stated in the post, it depends on many factors including preparedness and the type of taper. Let’s now look at some of the options available to you.
Training components in the taper
When describing the tapering methods below, I’m going to assume you’re using a well-rounded training plan, with drills and strength training, as well as a variety of different running session types.
This taper method involves small and consistent reductions in training volume on a daily basis. A typical reduction may be 5% per training session. It’s the most straightforward method to theoretically plan for, but if it may be harder to apply in practice. My view on this is that nature rarely works in such exact numbers, so we shouldn’t act like it does.
Exponential Tapering, slow decay or fast decay
Exponential tapers are less specific in their format than a Linear taper. You may reduce strength training by incrementally lowering the number of repetitions performed or using progressively lighter resistance. Each running day could include 1 mile less, then 2 miles, then 3 and so on. You could focus on a gradual reduction in the duration of technical drills. In the last week of the taper, it could be beneficial to swap higher intensity drills such as a banded hip drive running on the spot, for marching on the spot with a lighter band.
As the names “slow” and “fast” decay suggest, the rate at which the reduction is applied is the difference here, with a fast decay resulting in an overall greater reduction in training volume before race day.
A Step taper is essentially a fast and significant reduction, followed by maintaining that level of exertion. Training volume is usually reduced by around 50%, remaining at 50% of normal load until the event. You could perform strength work with as many repetitions but 50% less resistance (even using bodyweight only for free weight lower body exercises like squats, lunges etc.) or reduce the number of repetitions using your normal resistance levels. Drills and running sessions would simply be 50% shorter in duration than a typical training week.
In a meta-analysis of tapering studies, scientists hypothesised that exponential tapers are the most effective for endurance athletes however, many studies comparing tapering techniques don’t look at the two exponential taper formats separately. Combine this with the intricacies of the human mind and the fact that studies are based on endurance sports as a whole rather than just running, and it can be hard to say exactly which is the right option. One thing which has been largely agreed upon is that a reduction in the amount of training (volume) is beneficial but that training intensity should ideally remain the same, i.e. a run of 10 miles with 7 miles at marathon pace in normal training may become 6 miles with 4 miles at marathon pace during a taper.
Reading through this blog, you’ll likely have an immediate sense of which tapers would or wouldn’t work for you, but don’t be afraid to try other options in the future.
If it’s any help, I lean towards a slow decay exponential taper in my own training and with clients. For my Autumn 2020 marathon the last four weeks are as follows:
50 miles (final training week),
35 miles in taper week 1 with full strength and drill work,
25 miles in taper week 2 with lighter strength and drill work,
15 miles with no strength work and lighter drills in the week of the marathon.
Written by Kyle Brooks, Running Coach based in Norwich, Norfolk