Tapering refers to the practice of reducing exercise in the days just before an important competition. It is one of the most important aspects of marathon training and yet, it is also one of the most difficult to implement because runners fear cutting back on training.
Anyone who has tapered before knows that feeling… we feel like we’re going crazy because we fear losing our fitness and gaining weight.
Tapering is in essence reducing mileage, and it is vitally important for full recovery from previous workouts and for peak performance.
Let’s have a look at the reasons you should taper, how to taper correctly, marathon tapering mistakes, and if it’s possible to taper too much…
The Reason For Your Taper
If you’ve been following a plan and stuck to the program 100% – that’s brilliant!
You’ve probably reached the point where you’re sort of wondering what happens in these last two weeks of the plan… essentially, what is the goal of the taper?
The idea of the taper is to keep you ticking over and to still have some training stimulus on the body.
Your body is so used to training, but we’re also trying to freshen you up and make sure that you are as fresh as possible come race day.
A mistake a lot of people make is that they think they need to take time off completely and as I mentioned, you still need the training stimulus, but also a lot of people react differently to the taper.
Some people work better on a slightly longer taper, and some people work better on a slightly shorter taper.
We’ve found two weeks to be a pretty good range for most people to benefit from the taper.
In that first week of taper you might feel a little bit sluggish because again, you’re coming off a very big training block. Your peak weeks would have just been before that. So you might start to feel a little bit sluggish, stick it out, keep working through the strength programs (until 10 days before), and don’t lose intensity.
All we’re looking at doing is dropping the volume of training and then naturally in race week you really should start feeling fresh, feeling like you’re ready to go.
You’ll see, in race week, typically we do have some intensity. cutting down the volume even further. The idea is to try and make sure that you are as fresh as possible on race day. The one mistake you don’t want to make is to try and cram too much into the final two weeks and think that you’re still going to make up until the training is done.
It’s those final two weeks you’re going to end up doing more damage if you’re cramming rather than just taking an extra rest day here and there.
Now that we know why we need to taper, let’s have a look at how to do just that…
How Long Should You Taper For a Marathon?
How best to taper for a marathon can be highly personalized depending on your adaptation, race experience, and even your physiology.
This study found that tapering can speed up your time by 5.6%. If we look at this percent in terms of a marathon, that is the difference between a 3:20 and a 3:31!
For the best results of your taper, you should be following a marathon training plan or working with a coach.
As a guideline when tapering for a marathon, the shortest taper should be no less than 7-10 days, with the longest period lasting about three weeks.
We recommend a two-week taper where you gradually decrease your mileage leading up to race day.
Can You Taper Too Much For a Marathon?
Research has shown that 4-weeks can be too long of a marathon taper for many runners.
Many runners find it a big challenge to back off the mileage and fill the time with other things. ,
It might help for you to see tapering as a time to celebrate a plan of successful training.
It will be worth it, we promise.
What a Marathon Taper Should Look Like
Your taper should start the day or the following week after your last longest run. Your last long run should be about three weeks before your goal marathon.
A good formula to follow over the last 3 weeks, provided you have done the hard yards, is to reduce your mileage weekly by 25% in the 3rd week, then to 50% in the 2nd week, and in the last week keep the running volume very low.
During this time you will also want to increase the intensity of SOME of your sessions, however, you need to base this increase relative to your ability and goal or risk injury just before the race.
An important consideration when tapering is that your energy demand will go down, if you do not adjust your diet accordingly you will put on a few kilograms.
While some may advocate this as stored energy, excess weight is a killer for running efficiency, and particularly in shorter distances, you do not want to reduce your efficiency. Again this is a fine line; you do not want to starve yourself as this will reduce muscle mass, decrease motivation, and impact immunity.
Follow largely the same eating plan, cutting down on the energy/recovery drinks and managing portion size.
Ensure that you maintain as low an infection risk as possible. Where possible, avoid large gatherings where exposure to infection is increased.
Try to get an hour per night of extra sleep as this will help to boost the immune system. Increase your vitamin intake – particularly vitamin C to improve your chances of fighting off infections.
The ideal taper would be you eventually cutting down total volume by 50% by the final week, including speed workouts. It would involve you running as many days a week as you normally do, but reducing volume in everything from workouts to long runs, as well as your weekly total mileage.
Marathon Tapering Mistakes
- Not resting enough.
Nothing you do in training the week before the race is going to make you any fitter, all you can do is make yourself more tired.
- Running too little.
You still need to keep running to stay sharp, both mentally and physically. Stick to your training plan.
- Get new running shoes.
Run in what you’ve trained in. That’s a simple rule of marathons. A taper is not the time to try to ‘break in’ a new pair of shoes.
- Alter your diet.
If you haven’t tried it, now is not the time. You’re too close to race day to make any major changes
- Skimp on sleep.
Don’t use the tapering time as an opportunity to tackle a major project or catch up on all the little things you missed while you were busy training. This is the time to sleep as much as you can.