Tapering for a race certainly has its merits. But what about reverse tapering?
What is reverse tapering? What are the benefits of a reverse taper after a marathon, and how do you go about doing one? What kind of mileage should be run while reverse tapering?
In this article, we will discuss what reverse tapering is, the differences between tapering for a marathon vs reverse tapering for a marathon, and how to reverse taper after a marathon and other race distances.
We will cover the following:
- What Is a Reverse Taper In Running?
- What Are the Benefits of a Reverse Taper After a Race?
- How Long Should a Reverse Taper After a Race Be?
- How to Reverse Taper After a Marathon
Let’s dive in!
What Is a Reverse Taper In Running?
For most long-distance races, particularly the half marathon and marathon distance, it is advisable to take time off after the race.
This is where the reverse taper comes into play.
As long as you were not just doing a one-and-done marathon to check off the 26.2-mile distance from your life bucket list but indeed want to be a lifelong runner, you will want to get back into training consistently and potentially start training for another race.
The reverse taper after a marathon or other race will help you transition from the post-race rest and recovery back into more aggressive or goal-oriented training or everyday base mileage until you are ready to embark on another structured plan for a specific race.
What Are the Benefits of a Reverse Taper After a Race?
Even if you have run long-distance races before, including marathons, and you have not done a reverse taper after the marathon, you might wonder, “What is the purpose of reverse tapering after a race?“
There are several reasons why a reverse taper after a marathon or race can be beneficial and advisable, but the main reason is to reduce the risk of injuries, illness, and overtraining after the stresses of a marathon or long race.
How Long Should a Reverse Taper After a Race Be?
The length of a reverse taper after a race primarily depends on the distance of the race. The longer the race, the longer and more gradual the reverse taper should be.
For most recreational runners, the general rule of thumb that running coaches recommend is to take about one day off per mile that you raced.
For example, if you run a 5k, this would equate to three days off since the 5K is 3.1 miles. If you run a marathon, which is 26.2 miles, this works out to 26 days off.
Now, what do we mean by days off?
Complete rest for the entire period after the race is generally not necessary unless you are feeling really beat up and sore, come down with an illness, have a niggle or injury that was either cropping up before, during, or shortly after the race or otherwise feel like you need a true physical and mental break from running.
Rather, we can look at the reverse taper as being some time off, then some cross-training, and a gradual return to your average weekly running mileage during a base-building phase of training.
For a 5k, what many runners like to do is take a complete day of rest the day after a race. The following day, they might do a gentle walk or a very late cross-training session, and the third day after the race, a slow jog of 20 to 30 minutes.
You can also reverse days one and two of the reverse taper such that the day following the 5k, you might feel best doing some active recovery with a walk or easy 30-minute cross-training session doing some sort of low-impact exercise like cycling, swimming, or elliptical trainer.
However, the following day, you should take a day off and take true rest, though something like foam rolling and stretching would be fine.
A similar reverse taper could play out with the 10k distance. You might take 2 to 3 days off, either directly after the race or take one day of gentle cross-training to help flush out your legs and then take 2 to 3 days off.
The next two days in your reverse taper could be gently progressing back up to your running distance.
For example, you might run 2 to 3 miles on day four after the race, 3 to 4 miles a day five after the race, then take a cross-training day or day off, and then bounce back up to 5 to 6 miles depending on how you feel.
Once you get into the reverse taper after a half marathon, the length of the reverse taper will be longer, and each step will take a little bit more time because the half marathon distance will be more tiring for your body and result in more significant muscle damage and resultant soreness.
Here again, many runners find that the day after the half marathon, they feel best by getting out and doing a little bit of walking or some easy spinning on an indoor cycle or hopping in the pool for some lap swimming or deep water jogging for 30 minutes or so.
Then, depending on how your legs are feeling after the race, it is recommended to take at least 3 to 5 days off.
More advanced runners may need only one to three days off, also depending upon how hard they were racing (goal race, hilly course, inclement weather) and how sore they are feeling.
On the days off, you do not need to be completely inactive; some walking or light cross-training would be fine as long as your workouts are not more than 20 minutes and they are helping you feel better rather than tiring your body out.
Warming up the muscles with a little bit of movement and then doing some stretching and foam rolling can be helpful.
About a week after the race, you can get back into more structured training, though if we are going by the one-day-per-mile run in the race, it will take about two full weeks to return to regular training after the half marathon if all goes to plan.
After the first week of resting in cross-training, you can gradually start incorporating increasingly longer runs, though you should still hold off on intensity unless you are a competitive and experienced runner and feel fine after the race.
For example, let’s say that your half marathon is a Sunday. Then, the following Sunday, you are ready to get back to running after taking some rest days and easy cross-training days.
On that first day back, a 30-minute jog and some stretching would be great. If you prefer to run by miles, 3 to 4 miles should be a decent target for most average runners.
The following day if you are still feeling good, you can run 40 minutes or 4 to 6 miles.
If you are feeling sore, you should take another rest day or a 30 to 45-minute cross-training workout with a low-impact form of exercise.
After two consecutive days of running, either take a rest day or a cross-training day.
Then, you can train for three days consecutively. Each of these days, you can gradually increase your mileage and ramp up the intensity to your normal training pace.
For example, let’s say you run Sunday and Monday. You would rest or cross-train Tuesday. Then, you could run Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Saturday should be a rest day.
Sunday, you could get back to a longer run, but the distance for this long run should not be your peak half marathon distance mileage for long runs, but a moderate distance similar to the first step down distance in your taper to the half marathon.
For instance, if you hit 12 miles in your peak mileage for your long runs and your first taper down week was a 10-mile long run, you could go up to 10 miles for this run.
After that, as long as you are feeling good, you should be able to resume normal training.
How to Do a Reverse Taper After a Marathon
As with the other common race distances just discussed, the best way to execute a reverse taper after a marathon will depend on the following factors:
- Your fitness level
- How beat up and tired you feel after the race
- The mileage you were running while training for the marathon
- Whether you are jumping back into a structured training program right away for another race or just returning to base mileage for several months (which is generally advisable for recreational runners).
Given all these factors, there isn’t a single best approach to reverse tapering after a marathon.
You may need to tweak the reverse taper protocol we have outlined below, as it is meant to serve as a general template for the average runner looking to do a reverse taper after a marathon.
Using the guidelines that you should aim to take about one day off per mile running the race, the marathon reverse taper will generally last about 26 days or 3 to 4 weeks.
Here is a basic timeline for reverse tapering after a marathon:
Reverse Taper After a Marathon: Days 1-7
The day after the marathon, it is best to try to get out and do some walking for gentle cross-training for 20 to 30 minutes. In this period, you should really be focusing on refueling your body and getting plenty of rest.
On day two after the marathon, if you are feeling tired, you should take complete rest and just focus on true recovery; otherwise, if you are feeling energized, another day of cross-training for 20 to 30 minutes will help shake out your legs.
Taking 3 to 6 days of complete rest is generally recommended after that for most beginners after the first marathon.
If you are a seasoned marathon or a competitive athlete, and you are feeling good, you might only need a couple of days of rest.
The rest of the first week after the marathon should be easy cross-training, even if you do not feel like you need total rest.
Reverse Taper After a Marathon: Days 8-14
For some runners, even the following week after the marathon, they still feel sore and stiff and not ready to go back to much training.
You can continue to take complete rest, or you might prefer to start doing cross-training workouts every day, focusing on low-impact cross-training for 20 to 45 minutes per workout.
If you feel raring to go, you can start with some easy running every other day, sticking in the 20 to 45-minute range.
On alternative days, either cross-train or rest, but make sure to take at least one full rest day during the week.
Reverse Taper After a Marathon: Days 15-21
Once you have two weeks of reverse tapering after a marathon under your belt, you should be able to resume light training as long as you’re not experiencing lingering discomfort.
Gradually build back your mileage and start to resume your normal training pace.
By three weeks from the date of your marathon, you should be able to hit a long run in the 10 to 12-mile range if you so choose.
Reverse Taper After a Marathon: Days 22-28
After a three-week reverse taper from your marathon, you should be ready to resume regular training with high-quality sessions, including intervals, tempo runs, and a long run if you want to start building back up for another race.
Otherwise, you can stick with base mileage and build your endurance and strength again.
To that end, you should resume strength training 2 to 3 times per week.
Need more tips on how to recover after a marathon? Check out our guide to the best post-marathon recovery tips here.