How to Ace your Running Taper.


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Marathon training is hard—the long runs, hill repeats and the arduous track sessions take a tremendous toll on both the body and mind. When many marathoners review their training schedule they get giddy at the sight of the taper, which typically starts two to three weeks out from race day. The reduction in volume and intensity is a welcome one. But what many runners don’t realize, however, is that the taper can be just as (or even more) difficult as the rest of the training cycle.

Why is this? How does a taper help a marathoner in the first place and why do you need them?

First, the benefits: A taper will bolster muscle power, increase muscle glycogen, muscle repair, freshen the mind, fine-tune the neural network so that it’s working the most efficiently, and most importantly, eliminate the risk of over-training where it could slow the athlete down the most. It will increase a runner’s performance. “Studies have indicated that a taper can help runners improve [performance] by 6 to 20%,”.

So what exactly is a “well-designed” taper?

The key is to find the optimal balance between three key training elements: duration, weekly mileage, and key workouts. A taper that doesn’t incorporate enough rest can leave a runner feeling burned out going into the race, while a taper overabundant with rest can be mentally taxing and result in a deterioration of fitness.

Duration

How long you taper for usually depends on the distance of the race you’re targeting and what kind of mileage you’ve been logging from week to week in training. A typical taper for a marathon is two to three weeks and a half marathon should be about one to two weeks.

Weekly Mileage

Regardless of their duration, a taper requires backing off your weekly mileage in order to rest the legs for race day. Normally this is about a 10% reduction in mileage the third week out, a 15% reduction the second week out and the week of the race about a 50%+ reduction.”

Key Workouts

Workouts, along with running mileage, are stressors on the body. As such, a sound tapering regimen reduces both the frequency of the workouts, along with their duration, in order to maximize rest and recovery leading up to the race day.

Experiment, Learn & Trust

Look at your next taper as an opportunity to vary it in some way. Aim for the right balance in your routine: adjust your mileage and fine-tune your workouts by either giving yourself more time to rest or maybe even picking up the pace. Find what works best for you.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to trust in your training.

-RatherBeRunnin’

(Reference: The Art of Tapering, by Duncan Larkin for Competitor Magazine)

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41 thoughts on “How to Ace your Running Taper.

  1. mariaholm says:

    I would like to have the word ” taper” explained. I am running five times a week and follow a plan on Endomondo on how to increase my speed in half marathons. I run four in a year

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  2. usabaker says:

    Love your blog post. I’ve not thought about tapering. I suppose I should my my race coming up in January is so bizarre I don’t even know if tapering will help training for this event has been an interesting journey all in itself;
    Day 1: 5K
    Day 2: 10K
    Day 3: Half Marathon
    Day 4: Full Marathon

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  3. klmv says:

    My entire summer is gonna be one long marathon training as I’m running it the first week of September. I can’t say how much I’m already looking forward to August. 😉

    Question. I have my first hm in a month. But. I’m running it as part of my marathon training plan. It’s actually the cut back week when my long run distance is “only” 22km. So the week before that is distance building according to the marathon training plan.

    Should I less with my marathon training and taper for better performance at the HM or leave it as is and hope for best? I have no idea….

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    • ratherberunnin says:

      I would do a slight taper. Especially since it is your first half marathon, you want to be rested. I would cut your mileage down the week of the race. If you tell me what is on the schedule for the week of your half marathon, I can tell you how you should adjust the mileage. I promise you that it will be worth it to taper and it WILL not affect your marathon training in the slightest. 🙂

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      • K. (@running_kmlv) says:

        Hey! I’m back with the actual numbers this time. 🙂

        So, my HM is on the 22nd.

        I ran this last week:
        Mon: Rest
        Tu: 11km
        (And cycled 32km on Wednesday.)
        Th: 6.5km
        Fr: Rest
        Sat: 22.5km
        Su: 6km

        This week, the training plan is:
        (Mon: I’ve already biked 35km today. :P)
        (Tomorrow) Tu: 11km
        Wed: Rest+massage
        Th: 6.5km
        Fr: Rest
        Sat: 24km
        Sun: 6.5km

        The week of the HM (which is on Saturday) the plan calls for:
        Mon: Bike 38km
        Tu: 11km
        Wed: Rest
        Th: 6.5km + massage
        Fri: Rest
        Sat: 22km (Half marathon day!)
        Sun: 6.5km

        So… when do I start to taper exactly? Thanks for any advice you have! 🙂

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        • ratherberunnin says:

          YES! I love this stuff. Okay, here we go:

          This week:
          (Tomorrow) Tu: 8 km (I think 11 is a little too much for the week before)
          Wed: Rest+massage
          Th: 6.5km
          Fr: Rest
          Sat: 10 or 12km (don’t do much more than that)
          Sun: 5km

          Next week:
          Mon: rest
          Tu: 6.5km
          Wed: Rest
          Th: 5km + massage
          Fri: Rest
          Sat: 22km (Half marathon day!)
          Sun: rest

          You need to rest more than what this program is calling for. I promise that you will feel so amazing on race day if you back off on your running. If you think you are going crazy… you are doing it right. You want to be itching to run on race day. 🙂 Best of luck to you my friend. Please, please please let me know how you are feeling. Feel free to let me know if you have any more questions. I am MORE than happy to help! You can do it!

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        • ksquared says:

          I’m just going to add to this that you should try to move that massage up to earlier in the week of your half marathon. Most of what I’ve read says to get a massage at least 3-5 days out before a race, so you don’t have any problems with lactic acid or soreness.

          Good luck!

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  4. chelsearaegen says:

    I’m always afraid I will lose some lung strength during the taper and then during the race I will struggle. Have you ever experienced that?

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    • ratherberunnin says:

      Absolutely!!!! Try to work in a few miles on your next run at race pace and that should make you feel better. It’s mainly a mental thing, and I promise you, you will not lose lung strength. 🙂

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  5. CourtLeanne @princessandthejog says:

    Thanks for the post – I am used to running shorter distance races and will be running my first half at the end of this year, November. I didn’t realize that tapering was important for half’s, although I have heard of it for full marathons. I will definitely take this into consideration as I get closer and maybe take two weeks out to kind of slow things down and reduce mileage. Thanks!

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  6. straightfromdehart says:

    I’ve never even heard of a taper :). I suppose I should read more blogs about running! Haha I’ve just started running though, so I’ve got a lot to learn. Thanks for the info, ill be checking back regularly.

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  7. Nikki says:

    I’m heading into the second week of my taper for my ultra marathon and am trying to plan my attack for next week. With other races it never seemed to be as bid a deal but for this I wnat to make sure I do it right! Thanks for sharing!

    Like

    • ratherberunnin says:

      Absolutely Nikki! I am a huge advocate of tapering because your body needs rest in order to recover from all of the stress we put on it. Good luck in your ultra! I will be cheering for you from California!

      Like

  8. themovingmuncher says:

    This was an interesting read (as I’m going through a taper right this moment! Though ‘only’ for 10K as opposed to a marathon which is a BIG difference)… I’m actually finding it hard mainly because it’s my first ever race and I’m getting nervous – as if my legs are going to suddenly forget how the run despite the 8 weeks of training I’ve been through 😉 Thankfully I’ve got my boyfriend to keep me on lockdown for tomorrow and Sat (running Sat eve) and may try and do something like yoga to keep the body moving but nothing too strenuous! Also what are you thoughts about doing other cardio whilst tapering e.g. spinning? Thanks!

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  9. darv1986 says:

    I suck at tapering. Dropping the mileage feels unnatural, often harder than the race itself. This is a useful post for me 🙂 I need to be reminded of the benefits all of the time!

    Liked by 1 person

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