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How To Nail Your Half Marathon Taper: A Complete Timeline

Here's how to adjust those final weeks of half marathon prep, so you're primed come race day.

You have diligently trained for your first half marathon by following your training plan as close to a T as possible to prepare yourself to have an excellent race day. 

You are physically and mentally prepared to take on the 13.1-mile distance, and you are excited about your first race.

However, when you get to the start line, your legs feel heavy and tired from the long run you did a few days ago, your muscles are sore from your heavy strength training workout yesterday, and you are still tired from speed work just a few days ago.

After you have put in so many months of workouts, pouring hours of time, energy, and dedication into your training plan, you simply don’t want to get to the starting line and realize that your body is tired and sore and you don’t feel rested and recovered for a good race.

This is why the half marathon taper is an important part of the best half marathon training plans. But, how many days should a half marathon taper be? How do you do a half marathon taper period?

In this guide, we will discuss what a half-marathon taper involves, why you should taper before a half-marathon, how long beginners and experienced runners should taper, and our top taper tips to get it right.

Two people running.

What is The Half Marathon Taper?

The taper on a half marathon training plan involves decreasing your mileage, intensity, and long run distance in the final weeks of the training plan leading up to race day.

The purpose of tapering for a goal race is to ease up on your total training volume, which helps maximize your energy and physical readiness to perform well on race day.

This ensures that your glycogen stores are full and your muscles are strong and that you have recovered for race week.

Why Should You Taper Before a Half Marathon?

There are several benefits of the half marathon taper period.

Ultimately, the primary purpose of the taper is to give your body time to recover from a higher training volume and intensity so that you are ready for a race day.

Hard workouts tax your immune system as much as they do your musculoskeletal system and cardiovascular system.

By cutting back on your training volume towards the end of your training plan leading up to race day, you help your body conserve resources, making it that much easier to recover from the hard work you have already put in and be ready to nail your goal race time.

Another important purpose of a taper for a long-distance race is to ensure you have plenty of calories coming in that aren’t immediately needed to fuel longer runs. The carbs, protein, and micronutrients can be used to repair tissues and replenish glycogen storage.

Essentially, your body needs the extra energy, protein, and carbohydrates to repair damaged tissues and store glycogen for race day.

Therefore, I usually recommend that runners don’t try to cut calories or worry about burning fewer calories per day during the taper for a half marathon.

Preparing to race a half marathon isn’t the time to worry about your weight. Your body needs carbs and plenty of calories, even though you are running less.

Calories are not “earned“ because you have exercised. We all deserve to eat and be nourished. Listen to your body and eat well—and according to your appetite—during the half marathon taper just as you should throughout your training.

Even though the half marathon taper is not as dramatic or important as the full marathon taper, it is still essential to ensuring that your body is ready1Smyth, B., & Lawlor, A. (2021). Longer Disciplined Tapers Improve Marathon Performance for Recreational Runners. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living3. https://doi.org/10.3389/fspor.2021.735220 to fire on all cylinders and feels fresh and recovered from training on race day.2Haugen, T., Sandbakk, Ø., Seiler, S., & Tønnessen, E. (2022). The Training Characteristics of World-Class Distance Runners: An Integration of Scientific Literature and Results-Proven Practice. Sports Medicine – Open8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-022-00438-7 

A person running outside.

Do You Have to Taper for a Half-Marathon Race?

It is not always necessary to taper for a half marathon.

If you are an experienced runner and are training through the half marathon in your training cycle a taper may not be necessary.

For example, perhaps you are training for a full marathon, and the half marathon is just a time trial or hard workout, or you are running several half marathons in your training cycle, and this one isn’t your “goal race.”

However, reducing your overall mileage the week of a half marathon race—particularly if it is a big race you hope to run well in—is generally a good insurance policy to set yourself up for feeling 100% on the start line.

How Many Days Should You Taper For A Half Marathon?

Beginners and those training for a half marathon as their primary big race of the training cycle should generally do a two-week taper plan for the half marathon.

You may need a longer taper if you are feeling worn out.

Advanced runners may only need a 7-10 day taper for a half marathon race.

Elite runners often taper only the last week or so leading up to race day.3Haugen, T., Sandbakk, Ø., Seiler, S., & Tønnessen, E. (2022). The Training Characteristics of World-Class Distance Runners: An Integration of Scientific Literature and Results-Proven Practice. Sports Medicine – Open8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-022-00438-7

How Do I Properly Taper For a Half Marathon?

The half marathon taper generally involves reducing the overall mileage and secondarily cutting back on some intensity and speed work.4MUJIKA, I., & PADILLA, S. (2003). Scientific Bases for Precompetition Tapering Strategies. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise35(7), 1182–1187. https://doi.org/10.1249/01.mss.0000074448.73931.11

‌However, particularly for runners who have been healthy through the training cycle and have some experience going into a half-marathon race, as a coach, I still keep plenty of half-marathon goal pace workouts—and even some faster speed workouts—in the two-week taper.

I like runners to feel sharp and fast, so we ease up on training volume by adding an extra rest day or cutting back on some of the easy run distances. However, there will still be some half-marathon race-pace workouts in the final week before race day.

I also suggest cutting back on strength training and swapping an easy run workout for cross-training, as long as the runner has already been doing that type of cross-training consistently throughout the training cycle.

How much you should scale back your overall mileage during a half-marathon taper plan depends on your fitness level and your goal for the race.

If you are doing a two-week taper, training volume is usually reduced by 25-35% from your normal mileage during the first week of the taper plan and 60% in the race’s final week.

A person foam rolling.

How Should I Adjust My Training During the Taper Period for a Half Marathon?

Here are the guidelines for how your half marathon taper might play out:

2 Weeks From Race Day

Total Weekly Mileage: 

Decrease 25-35 percent of your peak or average weekly mileage during your training plan.

For example, if you’ve been averaging 40 miles per week (64 km), step down by 10-14 miles for the week to 26-30 miles.

Intensity

Your last full-volume hard workout should be about 12 days out from the race, so on the Monday or Tuesday of the week, two weeks out from the race.

This would be a higher-volume speed workout such as a tempo run or longer VO2 max intervals such as 1200m repeats.

You will still maintain the same intensity for other speed workouts, but the volume of the speed workouts will decrease as you get closer to race day.

A person running outside.

Long Run Volume

Cut your long-run mileage by about 30%. 

So, for example, if you hit a 12-mile run as your longest long run, run an 8-mile long run. 

This would be the long run done two weeks from race day. 

Experienced half-marathon runners running longer than the full half-marathon distance should scale back 40%. For example, if your longest run was 16 miles, you should do no more than 9 to 10 miles.

Keep your frequency the same during the first week of the taper. 

So, if you have been running five days a week during your half-marathon training plan, keep running five days a week, but shorten the length of your runs.

The caveat is that if your legs feel beat up and tired, you would swap a running day for a cross-training day or an extra rest day.

A person stretching.

The Week of the Half Marathon

Here is where the major half marathon taper takes place. 

At this point, any training you do won’t improve your fitness because physiological adaptations take about ten days to really take effect.

Total Weekly Mileage: 

Your weekly mileage should be about 50-60% of your usual mileage at most. 

Take at least one extra rest day. 

Run a couple of miles the day before the race at an easy pace, which is often called a “shakeout run.“ 

Therefore, you don’t want your extra rest day to be the day before the big race.

Make sure you are focusing on getting a lot of extra rest, working on diet and hydration, and planning the logistics of race day. 

You can also spend extra time foam rolling and working on mobility.

Intensity

Early in the week, a fartlek run and some half-marathon goal-piece work should be included. Then, all speed workouts aside from strides should be cut.

A person drinking from a bottle of water.

Will I Lose Fitness If I Taper for a Half Marathon?

Tapering for a race can be surprisingly difficult for many runners.

After weeks of training, most runners have established a consistent habit of running a certain number of miles per week or a certain total training volume, so cutting back at the end of the training cycle can bring about a range of emotions.

I tend to find that beginners training for their first half marathon feel very anxious during the half marathon taper.

This seems to be because, up until the beginning of the taper plan, the half-marathon training plan has mostly gone in the “up“ direction, meaning that almost every week, the long runs get longer, and the total training volume and/or intensity increases.

Of course, there are some down weeks where the training plan will have some built-in recovery, but for the most part, the training cycle builds all the way up until the taper period.

Two people running.

Particularly for beginners, this means that almost every week of your half marathon training plan, you are hitting a mileage or doing a long run distance that you have never done before.

This helps build tremendous confidence and self-esteem and can also breed the impression that you should always increase your running to prepare for race day.

Therefore, when the two-week taper plan begins, and the mileage is cut back, perhaps more rest days are added, and your long run distance decreases, first-time half marathon runners often worry that they will lose fitness.

Even experienced half-marathon runners who have raced a half-marathon or similar distance before and have gone through a taper before a race often feel anxious or frustrated.

Their bodies and minds have become adjusted to running more so feeling limited or “caged up“ by fewer miles or even less intense workouts can leave them feeling stir-crazy.

Despite some of the common trepidations and love/hate relationships that runners may feel about tapering for a half marathon, in almost all cases, running coaches highly recommend implementing a taper before a long-distance race such as a half marathon.

Use your extra training time to relax, stretch, use the foam roller, and get ready for race day!

If you are looking for a training plan for your next half marathon, check out our database for all abilities:

References

  • 1
    Smyth, B., & Lawlor, A. (2021). Longer Disciplined Tapers Improve Marathon Performance for Recreational Runners. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living3. https://doi.org/10.3389/fspor.2021.735220
  • 2
    Haugen, T., Sandbakk, Ø., Seiler, S., & Tønnessen, E. (2022). The Training Characteristics of World-Class Distance Runners: An Integration of Scientific Literature and Results-Proven Practice. Sports Medicine – Open8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-022-00438-7
  • 3
    Haugen, T., Sandbakk, Ø., Seiler, S., & Tønnessen, E. (2022). The Training Characteristics of World-Class Distance Runners: An Integration of Scientific Literature and Results-Proven Practice. Sports Medicine – Open8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40798-022-00438-7
  • 4
    MUJIKA, I., & PADILLA, S. (2003). Scientific Bases for Precompetition Tapering Strategies. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise35(7), 1182–1187. https://doi.org/10.1249/01.mss.0000074448.73931.11
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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