Tips On How to Taper for a 100 Mile Race:

Aug 19

After 20 marathons and 16 ultra marathons one thing that has really help to make a difference for me on race day whether it’s a marathon, a 100 mile race is doing a good job of tapering.  The first rule is that everyone it different, but I thought I would share some insight on some of the things that have helped me prepare and taper for a big race specifically for ultra marathons.

I’m currently getting ready for my fourth attempt at a 100 miles in just under a week I’ll be out running the Lean Horse 100.  For runners that train a lot, including myself, tapering is often a difficult thing.  We feel like taking even a few days off will somehow reduce us to an atrophic blob.  There are a lot of different approaches to this but here are some things that I have found that help me get myself in optimal condition for a 100 mile race or ultra marathon.

1. Reduce Mileage: This means really cutting down you miles and the intensity of your workouts.  A general rule of fitness for endurance running is that you would have to be completely sediment for 3 weeks straight before you would have a dramatic decrease in fitness.  You’ve worked hard and probably have a very solid training base that will not disappear over night, trust me.  While training for a 100 miles race I will average anywhere from 80-130 miles a week but leading up a 100 mile race I will slowly bring that down over a 3 week period.  Some runners will take off long periods such as the whole last week before a race.  I don’t like doing this and instead opt to just keep do short easy runs on a regular basis.

Example of reducing mileage from normal mileage weeks:

3 Weeks Out: 60-80 miles (~70% of normal mileage)

2 Weeks Out: 40-70 miles  (~50% of normal mileage)

1 Week Out: 25-50 miles  (~34% of normal mileage)

Keep it light and easy the last 1-3 weeks and if you are like me and still want to get some regular workouts in make sure that they are at an easy pace and limited distance.  Just like marathon tapering there really isn’t anything that you can do the last few weeks prior to a race to boast your fitness but you can easily do things that can hurt your performance.  In general I always error on the side of being well rested then trying to squeeze one last workout in(a tough lesson for me).

2. Sleep:  A fundamental component of tapering and recovery.  If possible get as much sleep as you can I try and get at least 8 hours the week leading up to a race and ideally I would get around 10 hours a night.  The body does a lot of recovery and rebuilding when you sleep and more you can get the better.  For more info on The Importance of Sleep for Runners from a previous post.    

3. Use NSAIDs for Recovery: Using ibuprofen or other NSAIDS on a very limited bases to help recovery from an injury is a very controversial topic.  Ideally I don’t like taking any type of pills period but for some minor injuries you can take a high dosage of ibuprofen for a 3-4 day period to help reduce inflammation which helps speed up recovery.  I do NOT recommend this on any sort of regular basis and I this is not something that should be done regularly to help with normal recovery.  Doing this puts a strain on your kidneys and again is NOT recommended on a normal basis.  What I have done for minor muscle strains prior to a race is take ibuprofen 3 times a day, roughly 600-800mg for 3-4 days max this along with icing at least once a day.  This help to reduce inflammation and promote blood flow which can help the body recovery from certain minor injuries.  Again please use this with caution and I do not recommend this unless needed.

4. Icing:  Something that some runner swear by and I am definitely in the pro icing camp.  I have found that sitting in an ice bath for 10 minutes after a workout has help reduce soreness and help me to recovery quicker and this is important during your tapering to make sure that you are at 100% on race day.  I recommend  hopping in an ice bath for 10 minutes after all workouts the week prior to a race.  I normally just turn the bath tub water to as cold as it will go without dumping ice into the water, roughly 40 degrees Fahrenheit, this makes it a bit more tolerable and you still get the benefit of icing.

[Update 10-21-2015] After some discussion and reading more around the art of icing.  I will leave the above info that I originally wrote above because I still think it is beneficial.  I will say that the benefit of this really is more from the increase in circulation from the hot/cold effect.  Not so much from the ice cold water reducing swelling.  I think there is a lot more information coming out that is suggesting that true icing can have some negative effects on your body’s ability to adapt from a workout.  This may be a good topic for another post.  What are your thoughts?  Is icing beneficial or not?


5. Recovery Tights: This is something that I’ve written about before as a part of post on general recovery ( Tips on How to Recover from a Hard Workout). Recovery tights basically help to promote blood flow and reduce inflammation with helps recovery, this is the same reason for icing your legs.  There are a few specifics tights that are design for recovery, most are simply compression tights for active wear so make sure you know the difference.  I use Skins Recovery Tights and really like them, especially when I don’t feel like icing.

6. Cut out Caffeine: Reducing or cutting out caffeine from you diet a month or more prior to a race is something that I’ve used for marathons in the past.  The idea is that if you are planning on using caffeine during your race for an extra boast or to simply stay awake during the night, reducing it prior to your race will allow it to have more of a kick when you use it during the race.

7. Massage Therapy: Getting a massage or using a foam roller to massage sore muscles and help promote recovery after a workout and during tapering.  I would somewhat caution against doing this too close to your race especially if you don’t normally get massages or foam roll.  You don’t want to have any added soreness too close to a race and deep tissue massages in particular can cause some soreness.

These are some of the things that I have started to incorporate in my training and tapering.  The big take away here is that you should be focused on getting yourself as close to 100% for race day as possible during your tapering.  Let me know if you have other questions in the comments below.

See how my other 100 mile races went:

1st 100 Mile Race Report: Zumbro 100 2011

2nd 100 Mile Race Report: Kettle Moraine 100 2011

3rd 100 Mile Race Report: Sawtooth 100 2011

4th 100 Mile Race Report Lean Horse 100 2013

5th 100 Mile Race Report Western States 100 2014

6th 100 Mile Race Report Vermont 100 2014


Other articles on Tapering: “Your Ultra-Training Bag of Tricks: The Difficult Art of Peaking

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