The Importance of Tapering

The most difficult portion of training for a race can be the final weeks—the taper period. After months of training hard in preparation for a race, it can be very difficult for a runner to back off of their training right before their race. However, just like the rest day, tapering is imperative for a successful race.

Taper is a gradual decrease in training during the final few weeks leading up to a race. In my experience, the longer a race, the more important the taper period. By reducing mileage, both of long runs and the weeks overall, during the final portion of training is critical in order to fully recover from previous workouts, overcome chronic dehydration that comes with training, and to be rested for your race.

Typically, when training for a marathon, the taper period should be three weeks, while the taper period for a half marathon is two weeks. While some runners look forward to the taper period, others become very restless during that time. It is common among runners to think that they are losing fitness, gaining weight and undoing all of their hard work in trainer. However, just the opposite is true. A well planned taper period will assist a runner is achieving their race goal.

When training for a marathon, tapering begins after the longest training run. The first week of taper, three weeks prior to the race, mileage 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.

For example, when training for a marathon I average 45 miles a week in training. My taper plan three weeks prior to the marathon is to run approximately 34 miles in five days, one of which is a long run of 10-13 miles. The following week, I run approximately 23 miles over the course of four days, with a long run of 8-11 miles. Race week, I will run about 13 miles in three days.

When training for a half marathon, the taper is typically shorter. I generally taper for only two weeks for a half. Following my last long run, two weeks prior to the race, taper begins. I average 35 miles a week when training for a half, and plan to run 30% less during my first week of taper, which is around 24 miles. I usually run four days the first week of half-marathon taper, and each run is six miles. Race week, I will run 13 miles in three days, over the course of the week.

Obviously, the above are my personal taper plans. Every person’s training plan and mileage is different, which means that every person’s taper mileage should be different. I encourage you to follow the number of days I run per week when tapering. However, figure out your overall and long run mileage based on your average training mileage, not mine.

Finally, speed work should cease two weeks prior to the race, for both marathon and half marathon training. Tapering is just as important as every other portion of the training process. After months of increasing mileage and working on speed, taper is the time to relax a little and give both your body and mind a break. If a good taper plan is followed, both the body and mind should be refreshed and ready to run on race day!

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