Marathon Taper and Tapering for Any Race
- How, When, and Why

It is essential to add a marathon taper week (or weeks) during your last few weeks of training before a big marathon, half marathon or race. As important as it is it is often overlooked and is one of the top 5 most common training errors (the other four being: overtraining, undertraining, implementing exercises and intensities that are not sport specific to running, and not following a long term training schedule to help you reach your goals.)

If you wish to reach your peak potential fitness capacity before the marathon you must employ the right nutrition plan, training, and rest methods. This is where the marathon taper comes in.

Tapering is the reduction in training load (volume or amount of training and intensity) in order to achieve peak performance prior to a race.

The Principle Ideas of Tapering: 

  • To allow your muscles to rest and recover from training induced damage that has occurred throughout training. This trauma is obvious. Your body is enduring long runs every week (or maybe every other week) and does not have time to completely rejuvenate before you subject it to the next long run or intense workout (such as a speed or hill workout). If you continue to place this stress on your body you can be sure that you are setting yourself up for injury due to improper rest.                                                                                                                                             Worse: If you place your body under the most intense workout of your whole training, i.e. the final race be it marathon or 10K, without proper rest you are begging for trouble and will almost assuredly lower your performance and set yourself up for failure. However if you give your body the rest that it needs before your final goal, it will allow it to rest, heal, and reach it's peak physical capacity before your race.
  • To restore glycogen  (stored carbohydrate) levels  to their maximum capacity. This is vital before a big race, particularly the marathon.  Your primary fuel source during a run is carbohydrates and if the glycogen in your muscles is depleted your body wont be able to handle the duration and length of the marathon distance. Depletion occurs when you are running many miles as in during the long run or are doing repeated intense workouts. If you give your body time to rest and are implementing the right pre-race nutritional tactics  then your glycogen levels will reach their maximum capacity and fuel storage thereby helping you to avoid "hitting the wall" during the race. That = success!


How to Taper

The marathon taper is usually 3 weeks or less depending on the length of the training program. The exact length of the taper is still one of those training tactics that is widely disputed however it should last for at least  3 days up to 21 days.

Most research agrees that an endurance runner can reduce their training load up to 60% for 21 days without any negative effects to their performance levels. However most endurance runners get antsy and so the taper is usually less than 3 weeks.

Most commonly you will see a 1 week marathon taper however a 2 week marathon taper really hits the sweet spot.

Components of a 2 Week Marathon Taper:

  • Schedule your taper 2 weeks before your race day, immediately following your most intense training period. For a marathon runner runner, the most intense training is probably going to be your last longest run an/or fastest/longest speed and resistance workout.
  • Do your last intense speed workout (if you have implemented speed training into your program) about 10 days before the race.
  • Cut your weekly mileage in half for the 2 weeks of tapering.
  • If you are feeling restless, run a time trial to gear your muscles up for race capacity a week to 5 days before the race. Run  2-3 miles at race pace, resting between each mile.

 

The Day Before the Race:

A lot of runners feel better if they run a couple miles (1-3) the day before the race. This is certainly fine to do however don't go fast, don't watch the clock, just get your legs moving and the blood flowing and jog the muscle memory cells for their upcoming task the next day.


How Much Will the Marathon Taper Effect You?

Tapering for 3-4 weeks can result in about a 2-4% improvement on race performance.

I hear you, it doesn't sound like much but...

Let's say that pre-taper your body is capable of running a 3:30 marathon. After your tapering period you are capable of now possibly running around a 3:23 marathon. Those few minutes might be all you need to qualify for Boston or set a new PR. 

Another way to look at the numbers is that that is an improvement  percentage. Think about what might happen if you do not  do the marathon taper. Your body will not be rested, you will suffer in performance and could have to drop out of the race if your body thinks that it cannot handle the intensity. Who want's that?

Still doesn't sound like a lot to you? It might not be much especially if you aren't a serious athlete but for those who are even semi-enthusiastic about meeting a time goal this is an easy, easy, way to shave off a couple minutes. All that is required is to cut your training load! How often does life hand you a freebie like that?

 

Return to Marathon Training

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Other helpful links included in the text: 

Pre-Race Nutrition

Carb-Loading

Overtraining

7 Running Tips to Help Prepare You in Case you have a bad Race Day

Understanding the Role of Carbohydrates for a Runner







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SOURCES

Galloway, Jeff. Galloway's Book on Running. Bolinas, CA: Shelter Publications, 1984. Print.

Murach, Kevin, Ulrika Raue, Brittany Wilkerson, Kiril Minchev, Bozena Jemiolo, James Bagley, Nicholas Luden, and Scott Trappe. "Single Muscle Fiber Gene Expression with Run Taper." PLOS One (2014): n. pag. Pubmed. Web.

Powers, Scott K., and Edward T. Howley. Exercise Physiology: Theory and Application to Fitness and Performance. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2007. Print.