I just read a piece from Amby Burfoot on how he is trying a new type of taper for a half marathon this year. He says "Yesterday I ran fast. Today I’m running fast. Tomorrow I’m running fast. Some taper, you might say." Now while that goes against what most athletes do during a taper, it's what I have done and am doing this weekend for my race. Burfoot calls it the Magness-Salazar Taper, but is quick to note that he is not writing the article in conjunction with either of these coaches and is not claiming they are the first to utilize such a method. I believe he simply used their names to bring attention to the article and make it more familiar to athletes.
He is however, bringing up an excellent point. The point is, there are reasons and benefits to running short, fast, and hard right up to your race.
A traditional taper may look something like this:
S: Long run -25%
M: Off or very light
T: WU, 8x400 @ reduced intensity
W: Easy run
T: Easy run or Off
F: Easy run w/ 5-8x 100m strides
Here is my taper prior to a 5k (excluding warm up and cool down)
S: 3x(400m, 300m, 200m, 100m w/ 2:00 recov btw reps)
M: EZ 50
T: 10x1:00 @ 5k pace, EZ10, 1600m @ 5k pace
W: EZ 30 w/ 5x100m strides to race pace
T: Regen 30
F: EZ 40 w/ 10x100m strides to race pace
S: 5k Race
This taper still allows for recovery, as I running much shorter distances than I normally would. However, they are being ran with some faster bouts.
The most important benefit to a bit harder prior to your workout is race specificity. For example, currently during a typical week I may average between 8:00 and 8:30 a mile, however during a 5k I'm doing closer to 6:00 per mile. With that change in speed, your legs and body are experiencing a completely new stimulus. It would obviously be preferable if your legs have had a chance to adapt to such a change, prior to the actual race. That is the purpose of executing short, fast, and hard workouts leading up to a race.
For example, during most training I rarely do any track workouts with sprints shorter than 400m or even 800m, however in the week leading up to the 5k above, I did strides twice and some sprints twice. After Sunday's workout my calves were sore for a couple days, simply because that was the first time in weeks I've done any hard sprinting for such a short distance, which moves you up farther forward on your forefoot. However because of that, my calves will be that much stronger come race day, from having experienced and adapted to that stimulus the weekend before.
There is a second benefit that I have started to notice during the last two months of training specifically for the 5k. This is that, the day after a fast training session, I run faster or feel like I can. There is nothing physiological about this, purely mental. I believe that running faster than goal race pace leading up to an event, and especially the day before, will lead to your goal race pace feeling easier, thus allowing you to run a bit faster. I've noticed that from doing hard track or tempo sessions, my follow run's easy pace often either a) feels easier or b) is faster. I feel that since the hard track session was such a high perceived effort, it raised my "EZ effort level" to a quicker speed.
The Magness-Salazar Taper: A New Wrinkle?
This week, preparing for Sunday morning’s RW Half Marathon, I’m testing a sort of modified Magness-Salazar Taper System (MSTS). Yesterday I ran fast. Today I’m running fast. Tomorrow I’m running fast. Some taper, you might say.
Right. But I’m running short on all these days. That’s the taper part. I’m running fast to “tune” my leg muscles (and brain, ie, recent memory) to the race pace that’s coming Sunday. And I’m doing the fast runs on the hard roads in my neighborhood.
First an apology to Steve Magness and Alberto Salazar. I don’t know that there is a MSTS. I certainly haven’t discussed it with them. I don’t know exactly how they taper their runners for big meets.
Here’s what I do know. Magness, who has a masters in sports science, spent about 18 months as Salazar’s assistant coach with the Nike-sponsored Oregon Project. During that time he wrote several provocative, mostly theoretical articles about tapering. You can find one, from Running Times, here. Magness is now coaching at the University of Houston, where he grew up.
Here’s the Salazar piece. His runners, Mo Farah and Galen Rupp, finished 1-2 in the Olympic 10,000 in London. Several days before the race, one of their training partners, Dathan Ritzenhein (who finished 13th in the hotly contested 10,000) told me that Mo and Galen had done some mind-boggling speed sessions. After the race, in the mixed zone, Salazar said that Galen had run an 11-second 100-meter the previous day. The previous day!!??
So Salazar seems to be using small amounts of serious speed in the days before big races. Magness is using hard surfaces. He theorizes that running on slow, soft surfaces (like grass) will tune your legs to feel slow and heavy. Many runners I know (like me) taper on soft surfaces in the belief that it will rid them of all their aches and pains. Magness seems to be saying: Don't worry about the little aches and pains. Get your legs (and brain) ready to run fast on race day. You'll have recovery time post-race.
So that's what I'm doing before the RW Half. Taking short runs, on the road. Finishing them with hard strides, on the road. This isn't a perfect experiment, because I'm not in great shape and not expecting a fast time in the Half.
But it's something I've never done before, so it's experimental in that regard. And it's fun to change things up a little vs my usual boring slow taper on grass and trails.
A good taper is absolutely crucial. It's the most important part of a training program. Why do we train long and hard if not to race well? Finding our best taper is job one for us distance runners.
Tapering has always been about running less. Magness and Salazar are taking another look, and introducing new elements. That's forward thinking.