Runner's World featured an article this month describing a tapering strategy that scales back on mileage but not intensity.
From the article:
In principle, tapering should be simple–run less so you're rested for race day. In practice, many athletes find two to three weeks of cutting back on mileage and intensity makes their legs feel heavy and lifeless. But Spanish coach and physiologist Iñigo Mujika, a leading expert on tapering, sees a way around that problem. Mujika suggests athletes start their taper early, scaling back on mileage but not intensity, then three days before the event, "reload" their muscles with an interval workout. Performing these workouts when your legs are fresher than they've been for months can actually increase your fitness.The last few taper cycles (including those for half-marathons), I've taken the attitude of "It's cool; I'm tapering" and totally slacked off when it came to pace. I'm curious to try this going forward.
Indeed, too much rest or slow running lowers the muscle tension in your legs, says Norwegian Olympian and 13:06 5-K runner Marius Bakken, which is why they feel flat and sluggish. Short, fast bursts of running raise muscle tension back up. If you get your taper right, your body will respond by producing more oxygen-carrying red blood cells, lowering stress hormone levels, and storing more fuel in your muscles–enough to shave about three percent off your finishing time, on average. Here's how to inject some energy into your taper so you shed fatigue and sharpen your edge.
My runs over the last week haven't gone as well as I would have liked. I imagine that it's a combination of trying to do speed work only a few days after running 20 miles and on a few hours of sleep (I had an early flight to Pittsburgh on Tuesday and two intense days of meetings -- who knew my body would hate me for trying to run). So far, I have about six miles logged for the week with a planned 90-minute speed workout tomorrow morning.
It's getting real, folks...