Marathon Tapering: The How and The Why

A few weeks out before the big race? Here's how to effectively taper for optimum results

If you’ve got a big race(s) earmarked for 2015, whether it’s a run, a multisport event, or an obstacle course race, you’d be well advised to understand the basic principles of tapering.

Tapering refers to a reduction in training in the immediate lead-up to a competition or race. It is unanimously agreed that tapering is essential for peak performance, although the duration of the taper is not set in stone - anywhere from 1 week to 3 weeks is usually recommended, depending on the race distance and your weekly training mileage.

Let’s look at the case of a marathon, still the most popular distance in endurance running. Ideally, a 3-week taper should be employed. Given you should have been accumulating high mileage in the later stages of your training program, a drop-off in volume of around 20-25% of weekly mileage will be welcomed by your body. This gives the body an opportunity to repair any tissue damage and restock depleted glycogen stores. It’s ok to maintain run frequency if you wish during this period, but cut back all runs including shorter mid-week efforts and longer weekend runs back by the prescribed 20-25%. Keep your runs at an easy pace, but do include a few short pickups throughout longer runs at goal race pace. Taking an extra rest day is a sensible option too. Expect to feel some degree of anxiety as the body adapts to this change.

Two weeks out from your big race, cut back by another 20-25%. It is normal to feel like you ought to be pushing hard during this time and that your prior training is going to waste, but look at your training journal and have faith that cutting back at this late stage makes way more sense that pushing big miles. Again, all runs should be 20-25% shorter than the previous week and at an easy pace. Including several one mile pick-ups at race pace to keep your mind and body sharp is a good idea, but keep them very short. Ensure you take 2 full rest days and consider going for a walk and stretch instead of running.

Race week. The key now is stay rested and focused. Ensure you get ample sleep and try to stay off your feet as much as you can. Nerves will inevitably kick in, but keep your mind busy but tackling a new book, enjoying a film, or getting reacquainted with a favourite pastime. Run 4 days maximum this week, keeping the distance at around 4-6 miles for each run during the early part of the week – no further. The last couple of days before the race aim to get even more rest and refrain from ‘testing’ your fitness by running hard. Visualize past races where things went well for you, or if you’re a first-timer try to visualize how you’d like the race to unfold.

If your event is shorter than a marathon, tapering is still important but you may not need the 3-week taper prescribed here. For half marathons, try a 2-week taper. For 10k races, if you’ve trained right, a solid 1-2 week taper will work. For 5k races, a 1-week taper will keep you sharp and ready for race day.

By: Kerry Hale


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