Mastering the Marathon: How to Taper for a Marathon Like a Pro!

To perform your best in a marathon, you need to know how to taper for a marathon. Tapering is the practice of reducing your volume of training leading up to a big race such as a marathon. This is done in order to help your body get used to the intensity and duration of the big run, and give it time to recover and rest. Tapering ensures that you will have the energy and endurance you need when running a marathon.

When tapering, it’s important not to drastically reduce your mileage or workout intensity too soon before the race. Doing so can leave you feeling weak and under-prepared for the marathon. Instead, gradually decrease your mileage of running over two to three weeks before the race day, substituting easy runs for some of the more intense workouts. Make sure to still include some quality workouts during this period so that you are adequately prepared on race day.

Additionally, make sure that you continue getting adequate rest leading up to the race; this means getting 8 hours of sleep each night, eating healthy meals, stretching frequently, staying hydrated, and allowing yourself time for recovery. Tapering properly is essential in order to maximize your performance on race day!

Taper typically consists of three distinct phases: firstly a reduction in the overall volume or intensity of training; secondly, a maintenance phase that involves little change to overall training volume; finally, a tapering-off period that sees further reductions in overall volume or intensity. During this time, it is important to ensure athletes are still practicing their skill sets, as well as working on specific fitness elements that are needed for optimal performance. Additionally, it is good practice to incorporate active rest days into the program in order to reduce any muscle fatigue or soreness before the race.

Planning Your Taper

Creating a tailored taper plan is essential for readying your body and mind for the marathon. If you don’t set up a fitting taper, you could potentially be weakened, exhausted, or even hurt on race day. Use this step-by-step directive to craft your own ideal tapering schedule that suits your needs.

  1. Determine Your Marathon Date and Training Schedule:
    The first step in creating a tapering plan is to determine the date of your marathon and to work backward from there to figure out when to begin your taper. Most marathon training plans are between 16-20 weeks long, with the tapering period usually starting around two to three weeks before the marathon date.
  2. Identify Your Peak Training Week:
    Your peak training week is the week when you are training at your highest volume and intensity. This week is usually around two to three weeks before the marathon. Identifying your peak training week will help you determine the length of your tapering period.
  3. Choose the Length of Your Taper:
    The length of your tapering period will depend on a variety of factors, including your training history, the intensity of your training, and your personal preferences. Generally, most marathon runners taper for two to three weeks, with the most common length being two weeks.
  4. Create a Tapering Schedule:
    Once you have determined the length of your taper, it’s time to create a schedule that gradually reduces your training volume while maintaining your fitness and intensity. Your tapering schedule should be personalized to your training schedule, goals, and preferences. It should include the following components: • Reduction in weekly mileage: Your weekly mileage should decrease gradually, starting with a reduction of around 20-30% during the first week of tapering, followed by a 50-60% reduction during the second week.
    • Reduction in intensity: During the taper, you should maintain the same level of intensity as your peak training week but reduce the frequency and duration of high-intensity workouts.
    • Increasing rest and recovery: During the taper, it’s important to get enough rest and recovery to allow your body to heal and repair any micro-tears in your muscles. This means getting adequate sleep, eating well, and incorporating active recovery strategies such as stretching and foam rolling.
    • Mental preparation: The taper is also an important time to focus on your mental preparation. This includes visualization, meditation, and focusing on the positive aspects of your training.
  5. Adjust Your Plan If Necessary:
    It’s important to remember that tapering is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and you may need to make adjustments based on how your body is responding to the taper. If you feel particularly fatigued or are experiencing any aches or pains, it may be necessary to adjust your tapering plan to give your body more time to rest and recover.

By following these steps, you can create a personalized tapering plan that will help you feel physically and mentally prepared for your marathon.

How to Taper for a Marathon
Photo By Sherise Van Dyk

Tapering Strategies

Here are some specific tapering strategies that you can use as a marathon runner:

  1. Reduce volume while maintaining intensity:
    During the taper, you should reduce the volume of your training gradually while maintaining the intensity of your workouts. This will ensure that your body has a chance to recover without sacrificing the fitness gains you have made during the training period. To do this, it is important to include high-intensity workouts in your taper plan. Interval runs, tempo runs, and hill repeats all provide intense exercise that will help you maintain speed and power while allowing your body to rest. Make sure to build these into your taper plan as they are necessary for ensuring a successful race.
  2. Incorporate short, high-intensity workouts:
    To optimize your taper period, consider including some short, vigorous workouts. Doing so can help sustain your speed and power, as well as your mental drive and readiness for the competition. Moreover, these drills can condition the body to efficiently manage the race’s physical demands. Some examples of short, high-intensity workouts that you might want to incorporate into your taper include:

    * 200m or 400m intervals at your goal marathon pace
    * 30-second hill sprints
    * 2-3 minute tempo runs at a pace slightly faster than your marathon goal pace
  3. Rest and recover more:
    It is important to prioritize sleep and relaxation during your taper to give your body enough time to rest and recover while avoiding any extra physical or psychological pressure. Here are some helpful tips for improving your recovery during this period:

    * Prioritizing sleep: Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep per night, and consider taking naps if you feel tired during the day.
    * Practicing relaxation techniques: Meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises can help you manage stress and promote relaxation.
    * Reducing non-training activities: Consider reducing or eliminating non-training activities that may be causing unnecessary stress or fatigue.
  4. Maintain your routine:
    As you gradually reduce your training during taper, it is essential to uphold your daily habits – consume good nutrition, stay hydrated, and persist with pre-run and post-run activities. This not only helps to preserve mental focus and motivation but also reduces the potential for unnecessary physical and mental strain.
  5. Address any lingering injuries:
    It is vital to address any persisting injuries or discomfort from your workouts during the taper phase. This might include lowering the training volume even more, taking additional rest days, or consulting a healthcare expert. Taking care of any lingering aches can make you feel better on race day and minimize the chances of further injury.
How to Taper for a Marathon
Photo By Annie Spratt

By using these tapering strategies, you can ensure that you arrive at the starting line of your marathon feeling rested, recovered, and ready to perform at your best. However, tapering is not just about physical preparation – it is also about mental preparation. In the next section, we will discuss strategies for mentally preparing for your marathon during your taper.

Nutrition and Hydration during Taper

As you begin to decrease your training volume during taper, it’s important to ensure your body is getting the necessary nutrients and hydration to support its recovery and prepare for the marathon ahead. The following are strategies to fuel your body effectively during taper:

  • Maintain a well-rounded diet:
    During the taper period, it’s essential to maintain a balanced diet that includes whole, nutrient-dense foods. It’s important to get sufficient amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to meet the needs of your body. This will help maintain your energy levels and muscle mass as you reduce your training volume.
  • Stay Hydrated: 
    Proper hydration is essential for optimal performance and recovery, so make sure you drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day. Aim to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water per day and consider incorporating an electrolyte drink to support your hydration needs.
  • Mind your Carb Intake: 
    Carbohydrates are a crucial source of energy for runners, so it’s essential to maintain an appropriate carb intake during taper. However, you may not need as many carbs as you did during peak training, so adjust your intake accordingly. Focus on consuming high-quality, complex carbs such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Avoid Alcohol: 
    While it may be tempting to indulge in a few drinks during taper, alcohol can negatively impact your recovery and performance. Alcohol can disrupt your sleep, dehydrate you, and interfere with your body’s ability to absorb nutrients. It’s best to either avoid alcohol altogether during taper or limit your intake to one or two drinks per week.

Remember, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet, staying hydrated, and being mindful of your carb intake and alcohol consumption are essential components of a successful taper. These strategies will prepare your body for the marathon and increase your chances of success on race day.

How to Taper for a Marathon. assorted fruits and vegetables on green surface
Photo By Vitalii Pavlyshynets

Mental Preparation for the Marathon

Running a marathon is a grueling physical challenge, and it takes more than just physical preparation to succeed. Mental preparation is just as important, if not more so when it comes to tackling the demands of the race. This is where tapering comes in, allowing you to rest and recover both physically and mentally prior to the big day.

To prepare for the marathon, here are some mental preparation strategies you can implement during taper:

  1. Envision your success:
    Visualization is a powerful technique that can help build your confidence and motivation. Spend some time each day visualizing yourself completing the marathon and achieving your goal. Picture yourself crossing the finish line, feeling strong and successful.
  2. Stay focused on your training:
    During taper, it’s easy to start feeling anxious and doubt your training. Instead of worrying about the race, remind yourself of the hard work you’ve put in during training. Celebrate your achievements and use them to build your confidence and motivation.
  3. Practice relaxation techniques:
    Tapering can be a stressful time, and it’s important to manage that stress. Try relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. These techniques can help you reduce stress, calm your mind, and prepare for the race.
  4. Stay positive:
    Positivity can go a long way in helping you maintain a healthy mindset during tapering. Avoid negative self-talk and surround yourself with supportive people who believe in you.
  5. Manage your expectations:
    It’s important to set realistic expectations for yourself during the marathon. Setting unrealistic goals can lead to disappointment, which can hurt your mental state. Be honest about your abilities, and set goals that challenge you but are still achievable.

Remember, the key to a successful taper is to create a tailor-made strategy that works best for you. Remain focused and ignore any concerns or doubts that may arise during tapering time. With these strategies in place, you’ll be better equipped to handle the challenges of the marathon and cross the starting line feeling motivated, self-assured, and eager to succeed.

In conclusion, tapering is a crucial aspect of marathon training that allows your body and mind to rest, recover, and revitalize. We’ve covered the importance of tapering, how to build a personalized plan, tips for nourishment and hydration, and the mental preparation techniques necessary for conquering the challenges of the marathon. Our hope is that this definitive guide has shed light on tapering tactics and helped you feel more confident and prepared as you approach race day. Good luck!

How to Taper for a Marathon
Photo By Rosie Kerr


Here are some common FAQs related to tapering for a marathon:

What is the ideal taper length for a marathon?
The ideal taper length for a marathon is typically two to three weeks. However, the length of your taper will depend on several factors, including your training schedule, fitness level, and how your body responds to tapering.

Can I continue strength training during taper?

Yes, you can continue strength training during the tapering period. However, it’s essential to reduce the volume and intensity of your strength training to allow your body to recover fully.

How should I adjust my taper plan if I miss a workout?

If you miss a workout during the tapering period, don’t try to make it up. Stick to your tapering plan, and adjust it if necessary. If you miss a significant number of workouts, you may need to adjust your goals for the race.

Should I adjust my diet during taper?

It’s essential to maintain a balanced diet during the tapering period, but you may need to adjust your caloric intake based on your reduced activity level. Be mindful of your carb intake and avoid alcohol, which can dehydrate you.

How can I avoid feeling anxious during taper?

To avoid feeling anxious during taper, try to stay busy with non-running activities. Focus on your hobbies, spend time with friends and family, or take up a new hobby. Keeping your mind occupied can help you stay relaxed and calm.

Should I run the day before the marathon?

It’s generally recommended that you take the day off before the marathon to allow your body to rest and recover fully. However, some runners like to do a short, easy run the day before the race to keep their muscles loose.

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