You’ve put in the weeks of lifting, running and mobilizing, eaten your veggies and downed your protein shakes, have your gear prepped, and are ready to rage into your Tough Mudder—or are you? Here’s why getting your taper on can better your performance out on course.
When it comes to preparing for a Tough Mudder, most Mudders have the training right; they get in the interval workouts, the grip strength exercises, the heavy lifting, and the rest days, but few nail what can be the most critical part of all: the taper.
If there’s ten thousand different ways to train for a Tough Mudder, there’s twice as many ways to taper. That said, not all of these methods result in feeling exactly how you want to feel come race day: fresh, springy, and eager to tackle the obstacles on course.
Do I really need to taper? When do I start my taper? How much should I reduce my volume going into my Tough Mudder? What do I do with all of this extra time that’s usually spent training? Fear not, Mudder—the answer to all of your taper questions await.
A taper is a gradual lessening; in the terms of athletics, it’s typically the gradual lessening of training leading up to an important event. Tapers serve to help your body absorb the impact of the training you’ve done, while conserving energy that will be needed on race day.
Do you need to taper?
The short answer: yes. The longer answer: it depends. Are you running your Tough Mudder as a way to socialize, hang out with fellow Mudders, and try out your grip strength or test your ice water threshold (Arctic Enema, anyone?) If so, a taper probably isn’t needed. If, however, you’re racing at Toughest Mudder or World’s Toughest Mudder, then a taper is definitely in order. Think about it like this: do you care about your performance during the event? Is it longer than a half-marathon? Will your intensity be high enough where you are unable to speak a few words, let alone have a full conversation? Take a taper. After all, you want your body feeling fresh enough to perform well out on course.
How soon should I start my taper?
Tapers are highly dependent on the intensity and duration of the Tough Mudder you’re heading into. However, a study in The Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that a two week taper, with a decreased load of 40-60%, results in optimal performance for the majority of people. For Mudders, that means starting your taper two weeks before your Tough Mudder, Tougher Mudder, or Toughest Mudder. For those tackling World’s Toughest Mudder, a slower taper of three weeks might be recommended, especially if you have plans to complete more than 75 miles.
How much should I reduce my volume?
A lot of this depends on the volume of training you were doing in preparation for your Tough Mudder, but most sources agree on a 40-60% volume reduction. While outdated knowledge once recommended a dramatic cutdown of training (like ditching the last few weeks’ of workouts and sitting on the couch instead), a more moderate taper is seen as the key to success come the mud (and you know there will be plenty of it.) If you’re running 40-50 miles a week at your peak, two weeks before your race aim to drop that to 30-35, then to 20 the week of your race. If you prefer not to track mileage, think about reducing your daily workouts by 20 minutes two weeks out from your Tough Mudder, and by at least half of your regular volume the week of your race. You might be feeling ready to rumble when you think about the Tough Mudder coming up, but stick to the plan—you have a battle to be fought out on course, not during the taper.
What the heck do I do with all of this extra time?
If you’re one of those special Mudders who can balance a full-time job, a full household of kids, spouses, and pets, and a full training load, then you’ll probably welcome the taper time to chill out. Even then, it can be challenging to slow down when you’re at the peak of your fitness. However, now’s the time to focus on everything you’ve neglected, like mobility, stretching, good nutrition, and sleep. Spend some time meditating (if you have the patience), or journaling (and we’re not talking about writing in your diary.) Instead, think about the goals you want to accomplish, how you plan on completing the obstacles, and how dang good it’ll feel when you cross that finish line. Here’s to tapering.