Taper Weeks and Stretching

Hello and good morning!  Ahh taper week.  That means 8 pace miles today and 11 tomorrow- no sweat.  Well, probably some sweat.  I love it when it gets to the point in training when I can say…”only 11 miles tomorrow!”  And what about this weather?!  I’m LOVING the cool crisp mornings!  Fall=my favorite running season of all.


In most training programs, you will see the long runs stager their build up.  One week will be long, the next a little less, and then a build up the following week- and so on and so fourth and so on… 

A well planned taper.  This is just as important in any training plan as rest days and hard days.  All of these add up to the best performance on race day.  The experts know what they’re doing I like to think.  I sometimes find it really hard to follow their advice.  I want to keep running longer and longer every week.  It just seems natural- keep building.  I’m sure some people can, but the body needs a rest sometimes.  It’s nice to have that weekend where I run less, have more time, rest my body- sleep in.

In most plans I see, there is a taper week between every long week.  For example, if I run 12 miles one week, I’ll run 10 the next, and 14 miles the following.  For me, this week is 11 miles, but next week is 17.  This method gets your body in optimal shape, without too much fatigue.  Building too much too fast can also lead to injuries- and no one wants that.

The most important time to taper is right before your race; between seven days or three weeks depending on the distance you are running.  Not tapering enough will leave you exhausted on race day- and personally, I want to feel fantastic that morning!

Amount to Reduce Mileage Before Race
Race Distance 3rd week before race 2nd week before race Race Week
Marathon 20% 40% 60%
15K to 30K 0% 30% 50%
5K to 10K 0% 20% 50%

This is a chart on how to taper your mileage in the weeks before your big race:






So there’s a brief overview of why we taper

And now the big controversy- to stretch or not to stretch

Personally, I don’t. 

Unless you do a warm up run, stretching before is not necessary- it can be damaging.  It can pull your muscles that are not warmed up already.  A better tactic if you need a warm up is to run 5 or 10 minutes- then stretch.  You’ll see many people doing this at any race.  I always wonder about them

Some people will say that stretching is necessary to prevent injury.  But more and more studies are showing that while it will increase flexibility, it will not prevent injury any more or less whether you do or don’t. 

In running, we don’t really use muscles to the point where they need to stretch- it’s a natural motion.  Someone who plays, say football, might need to stretch their arms because they bend them back to throw the ball.  Or a gymnast absolutely needs to stretch those muscles.  Us runners, meh.

The only thing I’m always sure to do are core exercises to keep my back strong!

Stretching after a run, in my opinion, is a personal choice.  I used to, and I don’t anymore (unless something feels very tight).  I do not notice a difference in how I feel or in my running performance.   Some people need a stretch because they feel tight or if they’re prone to injury.  Do whatever works for you.   But always be sure to do your stretching after your warm up or run- never stretch a cold muscle.

If you do choose to stretch:

  • Don’t rush it. Stretch slowly and hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
  • Don’t stretch through pain. Don’t stretch beyond the point where you begin to feel tightness in the muscle. You shouldn’t push through muscle resistance, and never stretch to the point of pain. As you feel less tension, you can increase the stretch a bit more until you feel the same slight pull.
  • Do stretch both sides. Don’t just stretch your left calf because you feel tightness on that side. Make sure you’re stretching both sides equally.
  • Don’t bounce. It’s a common mistake, but bouncing risks pulling or tearing the muscle you’re trying to stretch. Make sure you stretch your muscles gradually.
  • Don’t hold your breath. Stay relaxed and breathe in and out slowly. Make sure you don’t hold your breath. Take deep breaths.

And finally, here are some good stretches specifically for runners:

1. Wall Pushup #1

Stand about three feet from a wall, feet at shoulder width and flat on the ground. Put your hands on the wall with your arms straight for support. Lean your hips forward and bend your knees slightly to stretch your calves.

Wall Pushup 2. Wall Pushup #2

From the previous position, bend forward to lower your body to waist height. Bring one foot forward with your knee slightly bent. Lift the toes of the front foot to stretch the muscle under the calf. Stretch both legs.

Wall Pushup 3. Wall Pushup #3

Put your feet together, rocking back on your heels with your hands on the wall and your arms straight to form a jackknife with your body. This stretches your hips, shoulders, and lower back.

Back Scratch 4. Back Scratch

Grab your elbow with the opposite hand and gently push the elbow up and across your body until your hand reaches down to “scratch” your back. Gently push on your elbow to guide your hand down your back as far as it will comfortably go, stretching your triceps and shoulders. Stretch both arms.

Hamstring Stretch 5. Hamstring Stretch

Lie down with one leg straight up in the air, the other bent with foot flat on the ground. Loop a towel over the arch of the lifted foot, and gently pull on the towel as you push against it with your foot. Push only to the point where your muscles contract. Stretch both legs.

Quadriceps Stretch 6. Quadriceps Stretch

Kneel on your knees (without resting back on your heels). Lean back with your body erect and your arms to the side. Hold for 15 seconds.

Heel To Buttock 7. Heel To Buttock

Stand on one foot, with one hand on a wall for balance. Hold the other foot with the opposite hand and raise the heel of the lifted foot to the buttocks (or as close as comfortably possible), stretching your quadriceps. Keep your body upright throughout. Change legs and repeat.

Hip & Lower Back Stretch 8. Hip & Lower Back Stretch

Sit on the ground with your legs crossed. Lift your right leg and cross it over the left, which should remain bent. Hug the right leg to your chest and twist the trunk of your body to look over your right shoulder. Change legs and repeat (i.e. looking over your left shoulder).

Iliotibial Band Stretch 9. Iliotibial Band Stretch

Lie on your side with both legs bent in running position. Bring the bottom leg toward your chest and then bring the top one back toward your buttocks, so that the running position of your legs is exaggerated as possible. Hold for 30 seconds then flip sides and repeat.

Hamstring & Back Stretch 10. Hamstring & Back Stretch

Lie on your back with your knees bent. Hug your shins to your chest to stretch your hamstrings and lower back.

Bridge 11. Bridge

Lie on your back and, with your feet flat on the ground, lift your hips up until your body forms a flat plane. Repeat this one ten times for 30 seconds each to stretch your quads and lower back.

Groin Stretch 12. Groin Stretch

Seated, put the soles of your feet together. With your elbows on the inside of your knees, gradually lean forward and gently press your knees toward the ground.

So there’s all you ever wanted to know and more about the taper and the stretch!  Time to run!  Maybe I’ll take Bean to the Zoo tomorrow with all this free time I have;)  Happy Weekend! 🙂

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