How to Marathon Taper

Wow. I can’t believe it is less than 6 days from the Rock & Roll Las Vegas Marathon! The time has really flown by the last couple weeks!

The race is definitely starting to feel real. I have printed out my confirmation codes, and have planned rides to the airport. And I’m getting SO excited…and a little nervous too.

Tapering hasn’t been too bad so far, but I’m starting to get antsy this week. I am ready for a long run! Luckily since I was away over the weekend, it was easy to have things to do instead of running.

I realized not everyone may have done a taper before, so I thought I’d give a little explanation of the how’s and why’s of tapering.

Why Taper?
Basically, the point of a taper before a race is to let your muscles fully recover. Additionally, you can top off your glycogen stores, and reduce your chances of injury during the race. Swimmers who completed a taper before a race improved their performance by 3%, and increased their arm strength and power by 17.7% and 24.6%. In a marathon, this 3% difference could work out to a decrease in time of 5 to 10 minutes!!

I have also read that the key to a good taper is to reduce mileage, but keep the same intensity (pace). One study showed that keeping high intensity but lowering volume resulted in a running time to fatigue increased by 22%. In addition, although you might feel a little lazy with all your resting, you won’t lose any aerobic capacity!

How to Taper?
For a half marathon, I usually do a shorter run the week before my race, and the week of my race I take things easier (slow my pace a bit). I also try not to run (or only do an easy 2ish miles as a shakeout run) the day before the race.

For a marathon, the time of the taper is usually extended a little longer. I have reduced my mileage for the last two weekends. Over a period of three weeks, it is suggested to cut down to 75-80% of my peak training in week 1, then 50-60% in week 2, and to about 30% in week 3 (the week of the race).

Runs in the final week should be less than 4 miles. It is important to keep any runs the week of the race short and slow (1.5-2 mins/mile slower than marathon pace), even though your muscles feel well rested and will likely want to go faster.  Additionally, you should not increase workouts in other areas like cross training or weightlifting — again to provide lots of rest time and not tire yourself out. Try to stay off your feet and rest as much as possible.

Throughout the tapering process you should especially be focusing on eating well, staying hydrated, and getting to bed early! This is most critical in the final week.

Every person deals with the taper a bit differently, or may need a different amount of time (we are all different, right?). For my first marathon, I’m following the general guidelines, and if I think this is too long for me, I could adjust how long my taper lasts if I do another marathon.

More Info
Here are some links that can provide more details about tapering:
Pete Pfitzinger
Brian Mac
Runner’s World
Training Science

Mind Games
I think it is also important to focus on the mental picture during the last few weeks. Remind yourself that you are physically capable and trust in your training. I like to picture myself having a great race, or pushing through the tough parts of the race to get myself ready.

Anyone have other tips for tapering?
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4 thoughts on “How to Marathon Taper

  1. TorontoRunner

    Great info!
    I admit for the half marathons I've done..I went off no training plan and just ran and ran however much I felt like that day. So, for marathon training soon, I'm deeefinitely sticking with a plan.

    ahh, can't believe it's coming up so soon! I'm so excited for you!

    Reply

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