The taper idea

The taper theory

Having built distance into the legs and reaching the  peak mileage week, the next and last phase of Comrades training is the taper.

The idea of the taper is to lessen the weekly distance run (mostly the long run of the week) while  increasing the intensity of running, so that the effort-demand stays the same without the wear of  long runs and longish runs on top of other long runs.

I’ve come to think of the mileage- and endurance-building phase as a hardening, toughening phase. The taper is a tempering phase. The first builds steel into my running muscles. The second makes them stiller tougher, and adds a bit of whip and sharpness to them – like a well-made sword.

What this means in practice for me  is that I keep the number of days of running, make the weekly long run shorter, while pushing harder on some of the hills. If I can get myself motivated, even to approximate interval training by running harder for distances up 1 km during the runs I do.

Maintaining intensity is important. So is watching for the effects of overdoing running


  • One of the body adaptations of the long training weeks is an increase in blood volume – to feed the muscles at the level at which they are expected to work. This is the one the worry me most. If the work rate drops the blood volume begins to drop except that I still need it for Comrades run-day.  Increasing the intensity during runs keeps the workrate high and keeps blood volume at the right levels.

Intensity – hill work, intervals, paced runs over set distances – also increase leg speed. Which has a direct impact on Comrades race pace. A good taper cut 10-15 seconds per km off the pace which can be maintained over the Comrades distance. I know that’s why I could cruise the last 12 km of Comrades in my best year at 4:45 min/km rather than the 5 min/km I planned.

Even 5 seconds per km is good. It translates into 7 min quicker over the route. Or a 7 min “cushion”.

  • Increasing intensity also make me feel really pumped up, and life and world look infinitely  luscious as long as its all not too much.

Overdoing it

  • Doing too much is always a risk. It’s even more of a risk now in the last weeks leading into Comrades. Slight sniffles quickly become colds and flu’s. And the time taken recover properly from a cold, more from a flu, more from antibiotics destroys so much of the training already done. And while recovering you don’t run so the effects of not running kick in – the drop in blood volume, the accumulation of the by-products of running which can jam you up. 

Its best to notice the early warning symptoms – higher pulse rate, itchy throat, drippy nose, tiredness, sore muscles, a little cough. Which means its best not to ignore them

Its good to eat even more healthily, lots of a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, Even more consistent drinking.

Its good too to err on the side of caution. If you think its too much don’t do it.

The practice

  • Today is the second day of my taper. I ran 8 km carefully checking as I ran, the state of my feet, ankles, calves, knees, quads. No problems at all. The long runs didn’t lay waste to my body.
  • The first day of my taper for 2013, I started it with a long sleep and no running. I missed being out under the stars  but it’s okay.

I need another glass of water.

And an orange.