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Tapering For a Race: How to Do it Right

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What is tapering for a race mean? To taper means to have a gradual decrease in training during the final few weeks leading up to a race.  Typically, the longer the race, the longer the taper period.

There is an incorrect assumption out there that tapering means reducing the intensity of your workout. Tapering isn’t reducing the intensity of your workout but is rather reducing the mileage of your runs during the week and especially prior to a race.

Why taper? Tapering allows runners to fully recover from hard prior workouts. Tapering also relieves dehydration problems and allows you to feel the most rested for your big upcoming race. See “Struggling on Every Run? Are You Overtrained?”

Why is tapering difficult for some runners? Well, for some runners (I’ll include myself in this) it can be very difficult to back off of training right before a race. There is this constant thought going on in your brain: If I let up know, I’ll let up during the race. I know it! Don’t let this thought take you away from your much-needed rest. Just like rest day, tapering contributes to a strong race-day performance.

How long should the taper period be for a marathon? Typically, when training for a marathon, the taper period should be three weeks. How about a half marathon? Typically, the taper periods for half marathons should be two weeks.

All runners react differently to tapering. Some runners can’t wait for the taper period, others become restless and think they’ll be “losing something” by tapering. Nevertheless, a well planned taper period will assist you as a runner in your race goal. 

3 Most Common Mistakes Associated With Tapering

1) Don’t Rest Too Much!
There is such a thing as over-tapering? Yes- most runners don’t fall into this category, but a few do. Over-tapering (too much rest/lack of movement) can lead to feeling flat and sluggish on race day. Also, your body needs to still know what activity feels like- it needs to perspire, release energy, and still be strong especially for your immune system.
2. Don’t Run Fast to Feel Fast
Keep the workouts specific to the race you are running. Often runners try to do short, speed-oriented workouts to build confidence and make them feel faster. Don’t go over the top and fall completely out of the pace you plan on hitting for your half or full marathon! You also run the risk of pulling a muscle or getting injuries if you are not specially used to speed runs

3. Don’t Worry About Gaining Weight!
Some runners fear that they might put on weight during tapering. (See article on “How to Lose Weight: What You Need to Know”) All runners have been told that they need to load up on those carbs- pasta, pasta, pasta! There is a good reason for this. As runners, we should be storing extra fluids. It is much better to be on a full tank than a completely empty one! Don’t sacrifice your glycogen levels in fear that you’ll be putting on pounds. You’ll use and lose all these on race day! Trust me!Check out “5 Must-dos the Night Before a Race”.

When Should I Start Tapering?


When does tapering start for a marathon? Typically tapering for a marathon starts after the longest training run. The first week of taper mileage (3 weeks prior to the race) should be reduced to 30% of your average weekly training mileage. The following week, mileage should be reduced 50%, and the final week (race week!), mileage should be 70% of your training mileage. When training for a half marathon, the same taper logic can apply but for a shorter time span- two weeks versus three weeks.

Now don’t let these taper number define you as a runner. Find what works for you- maybe it is a little more mileage or a little less mileage. This is not the concrete guidebook to tapering; it is a recommended plan that many runners gravitate around.

Tapering typically does include ending speed work a week and a half to two weeks prior to the race day for both half marathon and full marathons.  For me as a runner, I still like to get in quick tempo runs, especially near the course, to make sure I know that feeling of my heart beating fast and having to control my breathing. These tempo runs are very quick, and don’t last for longer than 45 seconds to a minute, and I don’t do many of them at all.

Do you taper differently than what is mentioned here? By all means, share your thoughts. How did you first learn about tapering? Was it from your high school or college running coach, or a running club? We want to know! Share away.