Runners who taper their training can improve their race times


September 25, 1990|By Dr.Gabe Mirkin | Dr.Gabe Mirkin,Dr. Mirkin is a practicing physician in Silver Spring specializing in sports medicine and nutrition.New York Times Syndicate

The best way to prepare for an important competition, particularly running, is to taper your training for several days before the event. What's the best way to taper?

Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, studied competitive athletes who were running 50 miles a week. One week before competition, the runners were given three different training programs.

One group did no running at all. Another group ran fewer than 20 miles, very slowly. The last group sprinted 500 meters, five times on the first day of tapering, then four times on the second day, three times on the third day, two times on the fourth day and one time on the fifth day. On day six, they rested. On day seven, they competed.

Those who did not run didn't improve. Those who jogged slowly less than half their usual distance improved by 6 percent. Those who sprinted improved by 22 percent.

This study confirms a training principle known as background and peaking. Early in your season, you start out running slowly and trying to increase your mileage. Then, as the time for your important race approaches, you decrease the amount of running and increase the speed.

Tapering can be done so that athletes run even faster in important races. If they run faster in practice, they can run faster in races. However, fast running damages the muscles, and it takes at least 48 hours for muscles to heal. So the runners that run a few fast intervals seven, five and then three days before their race should do no running in the other days.

Q. Why is it necessary to warm up before exercise?

A. Warming up reduces your chances of injury.

When you exercise, your muscles burn fat and sugar for fuel. Less than 30 percent of the energy is used to power your muscles. More than 70 percent of the energy is lost as heat, causing muscle temperature to rise when you exercise. Resting muscle temperature is around 98 degrees. After you jog slowly for just a few minutes, your muscle temperature can be as high as 101 degrees.

When muscles are exercised before they have a chance to warm up, they are tight and inflexible and tear more easily. Warming up loosens the muscles and makes them more flexible. Warming up also increases the force the muscles can exert.

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