How to Taper During Training for a Half Marathon

The final two to three weeks of many good half marathon training programs incorporate what is called a tapering period.

During this short span of training, training frequency and volume is reduced allowing the body to repair and recover in order to be optimally prepared for the half marathon race distance - very much needed after the many weeks of acute training.

Half Marathon Taper

Runners have a hard time with this concept of cutting back at this point in the program.

Some have the thinking that continuing with the hard workouts will keep them in tip-top shape.

Others go to the other extreme and welcome the reduction, maybe a little too much. 

Finding the balance between allowing for proper rest while at the same time maintaining fitness can be challenging.

To benefit the most from this carefully planned tapering process is explained below.

Read on to know how to integrate the taper weeks so you reach peak performance in the right manner and at the right time - race day.

Let’s first dive into the “why taper” to better understand the importance of it.

Why Taper

Half Marathon Taper Why

1. Muscle Repair

With many weeks of training, time is needed to repair muscle tissue.

Tapering will reduce the risk of injuries caused by overuse and will allow muscles to heal.

Muscle strength and endurance will thereby be improved. The couple of weeks prior to the half marathon is the effective time for this repair.

Half Marathon Taper Muscle Repair

2. Energy Stores Restoration

Glycogen, which is the primary energy source for endurance athletes, becomes depleted during hard training. (Glycogen is produced mainly through the consumption of complex carbohydrates and is stored in your body. This stored glycogen is then broken down to produce energy.) 

By tapering, instead of depleting these glycogen stores, you’re reserving them.

Additionally, if you continue to consume proper nutrition, your glycogen levels will be restored to their maximum capacity ensuring you have ample energy reserves for the big race. 

(Besides tapering, knowing what to eat before your race and during your race will serve well in avoiding energy reduction. Check out these two posts to know what to eat before your race and what to eat during your race.)

Half Marathon Taper Energy Stores

3. Reduce Fatigue

Fatigue is accumulated through the weeks of continuous high-intensity training.

By reducing your training load through tapering, this fatigue dissipates, leaving you feeling fresh on the big day.

Half Marathon Taper Reduce Fatigue

4. Mental Preparation

With not training as frequently or as long, you will have the opportunity to mentally prepare for the race.

Focusing on race-day strategies, visualizing success and building confidence will nicely supplement the low-key workouts and provide the right balance for race performance.

This post “Mental Training for Runners” goes over the importance of mentally being prepared.

And here is a mental training pl

an that will help you develop a mental mindset. (This mental mindset training program is best implemented early on in order to have enough time to complete the 20 week course.)

Half Marathon Taper Strategy

When to Taper

As mentioned above, this period of taper training occurs in the weeks leading up to the half marathon and especially the final week before. 

Depending on your individual needs, allow for a taper duration lasting 1 to 3 weeks.

If this is your first half marathon, it is recommended that you aim for a two-week taper.

Others will find 10 days up to two weeks sufficient. -And if you’re recuperating from some mild setbacks, are going through additional stress or if you are adhering to a rather long training plan, 3 weeks may be necessary.

Half Marathon Taper When

How to Taper

A well-structured plan is key for effective tapering.

Following are guidelines for your taper period to ensure the best chance of getting to the start line fully prepared.

The specifics will depend on your individual needs and goals.  

1. Reduce Training Volume and Frequency

  • Running Distance - Following your last long run, implement a gradual reduction in your total mileage by 30 to 40% during the first week of tapering and 50 to 60% during race week. Again, the actual percentage will be dependent on your situation. (Note: First time half marathoners will want to make sure their last longest training run is no less than two weeks out from the race day.)
  • Speed Work Training - If you have incorporated speed training in your training plan, your first week of tapering should see a decrease in the volume of these workouts. Speed work includes tempo runs - also called threshold runs (These are continuous, moderately difficult runs lasting 20 to 40 minutes - See here for more info.), interval training (running that involves alternating between fast and slow paces) and the fartlek (unstructured speed work). 
  • Basically, when reducing speed work, at the beginning of the first week of tapering, you can still include them in your training but you’ll want to cut back on the amount of time dedicated to them.

This speed training should then be pretty much eliminated about 7 to 10 days before the race.

Half Marathon Taper Reduce Training Volume

2. Maintain Intensity 

Your level of intensity should continue during this period in order to preserve fitness and to avoid detraining results.

This means quality workouts are to be the focus with the amount of workouts (frequency) and the duration of the sessions lessened.

Half Marathon Taper Maintain Intensity

3. Eliminate or Decrease Cross Training Activities

It is recommended that cross training activities like strength training, cycling and/or swimming be discontinued during the taper period or at least cut back on. 

Worried that you might lose the benefits of previous cross training sessions?

You don’t need to be.

Studies have shown that runners, depending on their fitness and training levels, maintain the benefits for several weeks after completely discontinuing cross training.

This variance in length of time depends on the activity but regardless, with the tapering period being a short duration of at the maximum three weeks, you’ll preserve any fitness previously obtained. 

For optimal tapering, totally discontinue at least strength training about 7 to 10 days before your half marathon.

The strain and stress from strength workouts is not compatible with the goals of tapering. 

4. Focus on Recovery

Use the extra time saved from not running as frequently for recovery techniques.

This can include activities that alleviate tension, tightness or trigger points.

Think static stretches (holding a position for at least 30 seconds), foam rolling, massages and even meditation and breathing exercises. 

Half Marathon Taper Focus On Recovery

5. Nutrition and Sleep

Consuming nutritious foods is always a good thing but especially during the taper period.

Healthy foods and proper sleep will support recovery and replenish energy. (We’re talking about those glycogen stores again!).

Half Marathon Taper Nutrition and Sleep

6. Mental Preparation

With the half marathon distance being very much a mental challenge, incorporating mental resilience techniques will help cope with the discomfort and dauntingness.

Strategies such as visualization, breathing methods and motivational approaches can be employed and perfected during the taper training duration and then carried through as part of the race strategy.

Don’t forget that mental plan I mentioned above! Getting to that finish line will be so doable with this mental preparation!

Half Marathon Taper Mental Preparation

7. Race Day Strategy and Preparation

With longer runs behind you, use the extra time to determine your race day strategy. 

Look at the race course map if you haven’t already done so, check out the race day logistics - where to park, shuttle possibilities, etc., figure out your pace, your hydration and nutrition needs and even have ready the recovery plan you want to implement.

Don’t forget to also prepare your running playlist and plan your sleep times. 

You’re still in training mode and creating a sound race day plan will alleviate last minute stress and anxiety.

This extra time also provides the opportunity for reading up on more long distance running stuff - an excellent way to remain motivated! 

I’ve got you covered with this post about race day or - how about thinking about running the full marathon distance?

These two posts will get you started:

Top 16 Things to do Before You Begin Marathon Training,

Marathon Motivation: 4 Things to Know/Do Before You Start Training and then gravitate to this third post How to Train For a Marathon As a Beginner! (You’ll find a link to an actual marathon training plan that fits you best in this third post.)

-And here’s a list of inspiring running books.

Last of all, having a plan for what to avoid will complete your race day strategy.

To get you started, some things to avoid: foods that sabotage your efforts, alcohol, sugar, late nights, stressful activities… 

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Mistakes to Avoid When Tapering

During this phase of reducing your training load, runners often make common mistakes.

Be aware of the following to keep your tapering on track.

Half Marathon Taper Mistakes


Drastically reducing training will lead to detraining effects. Maintaining some intensity is crucial. 

Neglecting Nutrition 

Avoid getting so caught up in the quest to reduce training volume that nutrition is overlooked.

Nutrients that support recovery and energy replenishment need to be continued.

Here is a couple of guides on half marathon nutrition:

What to eat before a half marathon

What to eat during a half marathon

Half Marathon Taper Neglecting Nutrition

Anxiety and Doubt 

It is common for runners to suffer mentally by questioning the tapering plan and doubting their abilities. 

You’ll wonder if you’re doing enough. You’ll be concerned that you’re losing stamina and fitness. You’ll doubt the advantages of cutting back.

Well don’t go there!

Trust in your tapering plan.

Employ mental strategies to promote positive impressions.

Reassure yourself by doing your own research on tapering benefits.

Half Marathon Taper Anxiety and Doubt

Last Minute Changes 

Last minute changes to your training can impact your overall outcome.

While it’s beneficial to include a back-up plan that anticipates unforeseen occurrences, this untried plan should be incorporated only if necessary.

Avoid altering your plan, especially if it’s the week of the race, unless circumstances necessitate it.

Half Marathon Taper Last Minute

Omitting Rest 

Breaking from the vigorous training is the fundamental aspect of tapering. Prioritizing sleep and recovery will ensure you fully benefit from the taper.

Half Marathon Taper Omitting Rest

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Implementing a tapering period can significantly have a positive effect on performance on race day.

Body recovery, energy restoration, fatigue reduction and mental preparation should all be part of the culmination of your half marathon training program.

With training volume and frequency reduced, quality workouts maintained, recovery and nutrition continued and mental preparation employed, you will ensure you are optimally prepared.

Just make sure to come up with a plan tailored to your specific needs to ensure peak performance for your big race.

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