Runners train hard to prepare for a race, and it is likely that during their training they haven't given their bodies sufficient rest. This means they may run the race with tired bodies and won't have maximum performance. To give their bodies extra rest before a race, runners usually reduce or taper their training during the week(s) before a race.
A Taper, a Taper, My Kingdom for a Taper
In choosing the length of a taper, runners must make that choice wisely, because too long of a taper may mean that the runners lose conditioning and too short of a taper may mean the runners are still tired when they begin the race. Generally speaking, the longer the race, the longer the taper. Runners typically taper for three weeks before a marathon and only for a week before a 5K and maybe a week and a half before a 10K.
OK, How Much Taper?
General recommendations are for a 30-50% reduction in distance. Older folks may need more reduction. In my case, I usually taper my runs by about 75% because I'm older and need more rest. For example, during a three-week taper before a marathon, the runner might decrease the running by 10-15% each week.
Well, What Do I Taper?
In tapering their training, runners gradually reduce the distance they run but not the intensity. That is, runners might still do speed work or hills during the taper, but for shorter distances.
How Do I Handle Feelings of Restlessness During My Taper?
Feelings of restlessness are normal. We want to run, run, run, train, train, train, and it is hard to do less of that and not feel guilty. We're all different in how we handle these feelings. Some runners focus on cross-training. Others focus on cleaning house or working on projects. It is important that runners choose light activities so they don't overly tire themselves during the taper. In my case, I look forward to the taper and really enjoy the shorter runs and rest I'm getting.