What is a reverse taper?

Race season is finally behind us for another year or it will be very soon. You might be thinking what comes next? How much rest do I need after this? How much should I run now? Or you might even have a hard time remembering what it feels like to run a ‘normal’ amount. First of all congratulations on this year’s big accomplishment! You Rock!! But now might just be the perfect time for you to try a dedicated reverse taper. Traditionally this term applies to running, and that’s what I’ll be talking about, but really it could apply to any sport. So every time I say running feel free to substitute your thing. Towards the end of this post you’ll see how to design your own reverse taper and you can take that advice to whatever it is that you do. So what even is a reverse taper? Do you need to do one and what should that look like for you?

What is a reverse taper

A reverse taper is really just a controlled way to get back into your sport after a dedicated training season and race is over. It’s certainly not something you have to do but there are a number of reasons why you might want to. The first is to be intentional about your rest, recovery and injury prevention after your big race. For some of us that will keep us from doing too much too fast and for others it actually keeps us focused after the fact. It can recognize that we can’t keep preforming at the level forever and that your favorite activity is something worth doing even when there isn’t a race on the line. It can work for runners who crave structure and those that might need a little more.

Why you might need a reverse taper

There’s two not so great things that can happen after you finish your big race. Two common poor choices if you will. This first is that you just do nothing and the second be that you continue to do too much. So let’s dig a little deeper on why both of these choices happen and why neither is a great idea.

First scenario is that you finish your race and then crickets… But it’s a really easy thing to do. Even though in your head you want to be running it just isn’t in your heart (or your legs) at the moment. This is the category that I naturally tend to fall into by the way. You’ve done so much training and then all that work or race day and now sitting is just pretty great. Pretty soon though you start to feel guilty about all that sitting and it gets even harder to get back into a routine and you keep putting it off. In this case a reverse taper can help you actually transition back to your long term goals.

The second way we go ‘wrong’ after our big race is to try to capitalize on your new level of fitness and endurance and do too much. This group tends to be very type A, well both are really, but they really, really don’t want to lose anything they’ve worked so hard for. There are lots of reasons you really do need a break from heavy training each year but most of all is injury prevention. Beyond that do you really want your life to be that highly scheduled and that tiered forever? In this case using a reverse taper can help you confidently return to a more reasonable level of long term running in a dedicated way.

How to design your own reverse taper plan

There isn’t a perfect reverse taper for every race distance or at the end of every training program. How much should you run and how much should you rest? I like to start from the starting point that after a full marathon it is generally advised that you shouldn’t run or exercise at all and rather rest completely for at least a week. So if you’ve just run a marathon then your rest answer is pretty easy, but if you’ve just done less or more than that’s a pretty good jumping off point. If you did a half while you should be on the couch for at least 4 or 5 days. A very long ultra might even stretch closer to a month. 

I also think it makes a difference whether you completed vs competed your distance. If you ran it all out (and maybe even broke your record) I’m inclined to take at least a week for a half. If I mostly just dressed up as a pirate and crossed the line well then 4 days is fine for my first run back. The runs that come after that also shouldn’t be hard ones. For a marathon you want to cut the speed work and really long runs out for 2-3 weeks. So we’ve gotten an idea of how much rest to do but it’s time to get a little more specific. Keep in mind though it’s a good idea to let 6 weeks or more pass between training cycles. So look at the plan you’ve just completed and what regular running schedule you want to get back to.

One really good option is to literally reverse your taper, at least some of it. After your week or so of total rest you could start by repeating that very last week before your race in reverse. Over the next month or so add milage to get you to those regular all the time running goals. Keep in mind though those goals should e realistic for you and keep injury prevention in mind. For me outside of training season I’d really like to run 2-3 times a week and get to around 20k most weeks. When you’re adding that milage back after your race and rest time it is best practice to not break the 10% rule. But… since you have some recent high milage weeks you don’t have to follow the rule that closely. When designing your specific reverse taper you want to avoid doing too much too fast because after that whole training plan and your big race you are in a vulnerable position for overuse injuries.

The last question is how long to take to get back to that regular volume. Once again if you’ve run a full marathon that’s usually about a month including your total rest period. If you’ve run less than that or more you can scale up or down. After I’ve raced a half I usually take about three weeks to get back to a more regular routine. 

Schedule out your taper

One thing that’s common after the whole training process and the race is wanting to get back to running but also being over it enough that you just don’t quite get back to it the way you wanted to. I’m there right now as a matter of fact. If this is also you it’s a good idea to schedule out your reverse taper period like you would for training runs. You might go even a step further and set some reminders in your phone or make some running dates with friends during this period. It sounds silly but it really can be hard to get back out there after so much running. It’s a little like rebelling against yourself and that’s fair. Scheduling things in advance sets up a situation where you’ll be breaking a promise to yourself and that makes it just a bit harder. Off to take my own advice on that now!

Reverse tapers are not something you have to do but rather something that might answer the question “what comes next” after training finally ends. Some runners just love working a training plan, I love the result, but employing a reverse taper can extend that feeling for just a few weeks more. If you’ve ever heard the term and wondered what it’s all about now you know. All of my training plans, available here, come with a bonus reverse taper period as well. Is a reverse taper something you’ve used in the past or is it something you’ve never even heard of before? Leave it in the comments below. 

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