How to Get Your Half Marathon Taper Right

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The Half Marathon taper is so important to your training. It’s not something to take lightly. You put in a lot of planning and effort during the hard weeks of your plan. 

You should be just as enthusiastic about prepping and planning the taper stage!

There are a lot of good things that come from a well-done taper.

There are also a lot of things that can go wrong if you don’t taper. In this post, we’ll look at the best recommendations for how to approach the half marathon taper.

Don’t forget to check out our free half marathon training plans!

half marathon taper

What Is the Half Marathon Taper?

The half marathon taper is the final weeks before race day. During these weeks you need to dial down your mileage and let your body rest. Tapering before a half marathon is really important. 13.1 miles is a serious distance, and the training to get there is hard work.

The purpose of the taper period is to let your body rest but to not lose any of the fitness you’ve gained during training. That means you have to plan carefully to strike the right balance. Your workouts will subsequently get shorter and easier, but not too short or too easy. 

Check out our post on how to rest like an elite athlete. It talks about how important it is to actively rest and recover. It’s more simple than just sitting on the couch!

Studies have shown that tapering properly leads to better running performance. So, take it seriously and plan carefully to make sure you get the most impact.

half marathon taper

How Long Your Half Marathon Taper Should Be

The half marathon taper should start two weeks before race day.

It could be three weeks for some runners, but that should only happen if you’ve been following an unusually long training plan of 18 weeks or longer. Plans that long aren’t common for half marathons, but people often use them when they are recovering from injury. 

When you’re deciding how long your training plan should be, you have a lot to consider. But regardless of the plan you pick, there should always be a taper period.

Matea Matošević, Olympic Marathon Runner and founder of OLYRUN explains her approach to the two-week process.

“The half marathon taper should last 2 weeks. I gradually reduce the amount of training by 30% two weeks before a half marathon and by 50% a week before a half marathon. During tapering, my workouts maintain the same level of intensity but are shorter. 

Don’t do strength exercises the week before a race, and eat normally as you did when you were training at full volume. That way, you will allow your body to rest and replenish its glycogen reserves.”

Shortening the taper to something less than two weeks is not recommended. Pushing yourself all the way up to race day -nor even a week out from race day – doesn’t work. 

Foregoing the taper doesn’t only mean you miss out on all the training benefits it provides. You could become more prone to injury, and you won’t be at your best on race day.

Related: Half Marathon Long Run: How Long Should Your Longest Training Run Be?

half marathon taper

How to Plan Your Half Marathon Taper: The Core Elements

Planning your taper for two full weeks can be a challenge without the proper information. 

Up until now, you’ve worked hard to follow the runs and tempos listed out on each day of the plan. If you’re like many runners, you probably have the plan printed out and stuck on your fridge, counting off each day to race day.

But it’s the things outside of the training plan that you should take into consideration too. Training plans are great at listing the things you’re supposed to do. But during a taper, you’ve got a list of things you’re not supposed to do.  Strength training and speed work are some of those things to avoid during a taper.

Scott Kolbe, certified Ironman coach at Evolve Coaching Systems, explains his approach.

“A typical half marathon taper is 2 weeks from the race. It can vary based on experience, ability, and goals, but typically two weeks out you would have your longest run before your race. 

I build plans that could vary significantly for 2 different athletes. The week prior would still be a longer run but the distance would be pulled back, That distance would vary based on how consistent the athlete has been, injury history, goals, experience, and ability. 

Related: Ill Before Your Race? Here’s How To Respond

How to Get Your Half Marathon Taper Right 1

The week of the race is often light work with some short intervals to keep the legs moving and in shape. Oftentimes there will be limited to no extra strength work or cross training. 

The hardest part for many athletes is the ability to pull back on training so they don’t go into the race tired, where they have the fitness but show up with fatigue. The important part is fine-tuning nutrition and hydration prior to the taper.

An athlete could run 10 miles or 14 miles 2 weeks out on the long run. 1 week out, the distance could be 8 to 10 miles on the long run. 

Two weeks out, I often will keep speed and hill workouts in if appropriate. But speed work is often a way people get injured. If an athlete is injury prone and has trained inconsistently with the main goal of finishing, the plan would be to lower at the end. You would minimize or have no speed work.”

What To Expect When You’re Tapering For Your Half Marathon

half marathon taper

Things may (and probably will) feel a bit different during your taper. Here are some common reports we’ve gotten tapering runners. 

You’ll Feel Some Anxiety

You’ve spent the last couple of months working hard. You’ve laced up at least 3 times a week. You’ve kept up with cross training and strength workouts diligently. 

Now that race day is right around the corner, pre-race jitters will start to take over. 

Am I doing enough to make the most out of this race?

What if I lose the stamina I’ve worked so hard to build?

Telling yourself that you need to take it easy for a couple weeks will feel strange, but in the end the taper will make you stronger and even more ready for race day. 

Whenever you feel like sneaking in just one more long run, fight the urge! Trust your training plan, and trust the experts.

Related: Here Are The 11 Worst Things To Do Before A Race

half marathon taper

You’ll Have Extra Free Time

With so much of your time going to training, you’ll suddenly have some extra free time on your hands. You can always use this time to do some low-impact sports like cycling or swimming. 

Either that, or you can take the time to prepare healthy meals and get everything in order for your race. 

You’ll Feel Hungry

You’ll most likely be feeling just as hungry as if you were running 20 miles a day. Your body has been doing serious work for the past couple of months. If you’ve been following nutrition guidelines, you’ll have been eating a lot to keep up with the demand. 

While it is important to continue with the same level of calories, be sure to watch out for overeating. While you want to eat enough to replenish your body, try to make sure you’re doing so in a healthy way. Now is not the time to reward yourself with a pizza and ice cream binge. Save that for after the race!

half marathon taper

You May Feel Tired or Sick

Another thing to expect during the taper is feeling tired or maybe even like you’ve caught a cold. After weeks of pushing your body, your immune system has been on overdrive. It is totally normal that once you start to slow down, your body will react with aches and pains or other cold-like symptoms.

How to Have a Great Race Day

Once you’ve made it through your training plan and finished up your marathon taper, you’ve now gotten yourself all the way up to race day. Follow this final tips for the day before and the day of your half marathon:

  • Get a good night’s sleep. If you’re prone to insomnia, stay away from the blue screens the night before. 
  • Eat a healthy meal before you go to bed
  • Eat a big, healthy breakfast a couple hours before the race – to give your body time to digest
  • Arrive at the race about 90 minutes early. Make sure you get your number and your place in line without any trouble
  • Don’t use up all your strength at the beginning of the race – save your strength for a burst in that final mile.

And of course, if you’re still in the planning stage and haven’t gotten near your taper yet, be sure to check out our library of free half marathon training plans. Take a look through a few of the different plans, even the ones that look too intense. You’ll see different approaches to the half marathon taper in all of them, but the core components will be the same. 

Our 6 Week Half Marathon Training Plan includes a taper section so you’ll have all your bases covered. That’s because tapering is an important part of the training process. Good luck on your race!

Related: Should You Run Before a Race? Shakeout Runs Explained

half marathon taper
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Mia Kercher is a hiker, cyclist, and runner. After finishing her first marathon in 2013, she continued the sport but found a new passion in trail running. She now explores the glorious mountains in Portland, Oregon.

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