Tapering is an important part of a training plan with long distance endurance distances in mind i.e. half marathons, full marathons, ultras etc. The idea is that you steadily increase your distances in the months ahead of the race and then, with 3 or 4 weeks before the race, ease off the distance training.
An example could be in training for a marathon and the long runs (most people have one long run each week) peak at about 20 miles about 4 weeks before the big day. In the 4 weeks tapering period, long runs might then be 17, 12, 10 miles.
For other weekday runs, these too can be ease back but it's important to keep the balance right. If you find mixing interval training with gentle slow runs, ordinary runs, tempo runs works for you, keep these up but step back on the intensities or distances a bit.
The logic is that you build up your base fitness and strength gradually which is then part of your natural capability. Long runs do place a real strain on anyone's body and this can easily lead to an injury. So by peaking a few weeks ahead of the race, you then have some time for recovery, consolidation etc.
Won't I lose my fitness in that time?
No, you won't. Your fitness has been built up through all of those training miles - probably several hundred miles of specific marathon training miles. Much better to taper and stay injury free. Just as it does take a long time to build up your aerobic fitness - your body's ability to be efficient in breathing, pumping blood around to your muscles etc - it takes a long time for this to be lost.
During this time your body will be benefitting from good, wholesome food that will help repair any damage from those miles in the build up to your training peak. Sometimes it takes a while for some repairs to take place.
It can be argued that we need to mentally taper as well. Intensive training does undoubtedly have its benefits but also there is a case for easing off, relaxing with confidence and anticipate the enjoyment of the race.
And me?Yes it works and I can testify this from my own experience. In a way it almost seems counter-productive and it is very tempting to do too much in those last few days and weeks. I know my limits quite well and I really can vouch for tapering.
However, this has not happening this time. It wasn't planned to turn out like this but it just has. Tapering is something I should have been starting a few weeks ago, instead of now - can you believe that? "Now" being two days before the race! Flippin' 'eck, crikes, eeeek.
This is where I might start to feel like a hypocrite as I'm not exactly "practising what I preach" and yes, you have a good point. The excuse is that I was, in all truthfulness, a little behind with my training and then I got FLU! That knocked me out for two weeks at the critical part of my training when I was building the miles up. So now the situation is that I have had to regard my training as still working up to my peak and yes, the peak is the race itself. So no tapering at all this time (other than this week and these last couple of days!). Such is life sometimes.
Cold, flu interrupts training