The taper is an essential part of preparing for a marathon in the weeks prior to the event.
Tapering is the process of gradually decreasing the volume of your training in preparation for a race.
A good marathon taper is an important part of a marathon training plan, in order to ensure you arrive at the start line in your best possible condition.
Tapering means that come race day, your body should be relaxed but ready. It helps you avoid the risk of over-training and being fatigued by the time it’s time to run.
Over those few weeks, worn muscles get a chance to recuperate, and micro-tears built up during training can heal.
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U.S. mountain-running champion Nicole Hunt sums it up as follows:
Tapering helps “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 overtraining where it could slow the athlete down the most… .studies have indicated that a taper can help runners improve by 6 to 20%”
Marathon Taper Duration
The marathon taper period is typically between two and four weeks, depending on the experience and history of the runner.
The length of your taper depends on your underlying athletic ability, and the amount of training you typically do.
Rookie runners with plenty of time to train should aim for a 4-week taper period.
Intermediate runners can go for a 3 week taper. Same goes for beginner runners on a tight training schedule.
Very experienced and advanced runners can cut things down to a short 2 week taper period, as their bodies are well accustomed to the rigours of training and recovery.
Tapering is for Preservation and Recovery – Not Improvement
A fundamental principle of the marathon taper is understanding that in those last few weeks leading up to your event, it’s already too late to improve your fitness in a way which will positively impact your marathon.
All the improvement work – in terms of endurance, speed, VO2 Max, muscular strength, and running form, – takes place in the weeks leading up to your taper.
By the time you are in the taper window, you are no longer focussing on improving these metrics – instead, you’re focussing on getting your body into optimal condition for race day.
Your marathon performance is dictated by the work you do in the months leading up to your marathon.
Tapering For A Marathon – Checklist:
- Each week of your taper you should decrease your weekly mileage by 20-30%.
- Tapering is about decreasing training volume, not intensity (although you are free to wind things back if you feel it’s beneficial).
- Long Runs. These should decrease in length significantly – if you peaked at 20 miles, then your next long run should be 12 to 14 miles, then 10 – 12 miles, then an 8 miler a week before the marathon.
- Speed workouts. These can continue, but decrease the volume in line with your weekly mileage. For example, if you peaked your training with 10 x 400m intervals, each week of your taper should reduce the number of intervals by 20-30%.
- Avoid steep hills, rough terrain or anything unnecessarily challenging that could lead to injury.
- Avoid anything new or challenging; the taper period is a time of recovery and consolidation.
- It’s easy to get restless during your taper; your body has become used to burning oodles of energy each week, and suddenly you’ve decreased the intensity. Irritability, inability to sleep well, and energy level swings are all common in the taper.
If you’re looking to take your marathon training further, consider the Marathon Training Masterclass – our complete guide to marathon training, including 6+hrs of exclusive video content and more.