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Tapering for Your Marathon and Half Marathon: The Delightful Art of Easing Off

10 days until I leave for Chicago for Marathon Weekend! Which means I have survived peak week and have hit the taper. If you talk to runners, they will have mixed opinions on the taper – some people love it (I’m in this camp) and other people loathe it.

What's tapering, you ask? Well, think of it as the dessert after a hearty running meal – it's the delicious, satisfying finish to all your hard training work. As I’m adjusting my body and mind for the taper, let's dive into the wonderful world of tapering!

Tapering Strategies for Half and Marathons
Tapering Strategies for Half and Marathons

The Tapering Tango

Tapering is essentially the art of reducing your running mileage and intensity in the weeks leading up to your race. It might seem counterintuitive – after all, you've spent months building up your endurance – but trust me, it's like giving your body a spa day before the grand event.

Imagine this: you've been running like a beast for weeks, and your legs are starting to feel the strain (you know, that cumulative fatigue I talked about in this post). Enter tapering, your knight in shining armor. It gives your muscles time to recover, reduces the risk of injury, and ensures you're fresh and raring to go on race day.

Tapering is essentially the art of reducing your running mileage and intensity in the weeks leading up to your race.

Why Taper, You Ask?

Injury Prevention: First and foremost, tapering helps prevent injuries. Running long distances, especially during peak training, can put tremendous stress on your muscles and joints. Tapering gives them time to heal and bounce back stronger so you’re good to go on race day.

Energy Conservation: Ever heard the phrase, "saving the best for last"? Tapering allows you to save your energy for race day. Your muscles store up glycogen, a crucial source of energy, during this period, ensuring you're topped up and ready to unleash your inner Usain Bolt when it counts (carb loading falls into this category too).

Mental Refreshment: Running is not just about physical prowess; it's a mental game too. Tapering helps clear your head and reduce pre-race anxiety. It's like hitting the reset button on your brain. I like to do a lot of mindset work during the taper – keep reading to get a few of my favorite exercises.

The Tapering Timeline

Tapering isn't something you do the night before the race. It's a gradual process that typically spans two to three weeks leading up to your marathon or half marathon. Here's a basic tapering timeline to consider:

  • 2-3 Weeks Out: Start by reducing your weekly mileage by about 20-25%. Maintain the intensity but cut back on the duration.

  • Two Weeks Out: Keep the mileage down, reducing it by another 20-25%. Focus on maintaining your race pace during shorter runs. Hydration and nutrition become crucial now – practice your race-day fueling strategy.

  • One Week Out: Your mileage should be at its lowest – around 33% of your peak training volume. Include a few short, easy runs to keep your legs engaged. Rest becomes paramount, as does fine-tuning your race-day logistics.

Listen to Your Body During the Taper

Remember, tapering isn't a one-size-fits-all strategy. Your body is unique, and you should tailor your tapering plan to suit your own needs. If you're feeling particularly fatigued or notice any niggling injuries, don't hesitate to adjust your tapering schedule accordingly.

Strength Training and Tapering

Some runners will cut out all strength training during the taper, others only during race week (that’s what I do!), and others only a few days before. It’s ok to start more strict (i.e. cut it out all taper) and then ease back in once you have some experience with how it feels and how your body responds.

Strategies to Feel Strong During the Taper

Lots of times when we are tapering we have all this extra time on our hands that we got used to running in. We can get in our heads that we should be doing more–running more, working out more, something. But that’s not the case. These are my favorite things to do during the taper to use some of that energy.

  • During peak training, keep a list of projects or things in life that you let go – meal prep that didn’t get done, laundry that sat in the garage, sheets that weren’t changed, e-mails that went unresponded to, etc. Once peak training hits and you start to feel anxious, knock out a few of those things. You’ll feel productive but they will allow you to keep resting

  • Work on the mindset piece of marathoning. My favorite tip for this is to look back over your training log (whether it’s a true log, the runs on your garmin app, the posts you put up on social media, wherever). Make a “bank” or list of all the runs that made you feel strong and capable of running a half or full marathon. Bonus points if you’re shooting for a certain time or pace and you have the deposits in the bank to remind you of that. I like to actually write out this list on pen and paper. It helps you to remember it. Look over that list in the days leading up to the race. When it’s hard during the race, those moments of triumph will be top of mind. You’ll be more likely to remember those runs in the hard miles, which will help you push through.

  • Focus on fueling and hydration. Do I need to say more here? Hah!

Final Thoughts on Tapering

Tapering may seem like an odd concept – easing off when you're so close to the finish line. But trust me, it's a crucial component of your marathon or half marathon training (you taper for a 5k and 10k as well, but it’s nowhere near as long as for the half and full marathon, which is why I focused this just on the half and full). It's the icing on the cake, the cherry on top, the crescendo to your running symphony.

I like to tell the athletes that I work with one on one that the race day is not finals week, it’s the graduation. Peak week is your finals week and the race day is graduation–the chance to celebrate how hard you freaking worked for the last months. You should enjoy it. After all, no one is paying us or forcing us to run these races, so if it’s not fun, don’t do it. (If you want to learn more about one-on-one coaching, check out this page!).

As you embark on your tapering journey, relish the extra rest days, savor the shorter runs, and embrace the opportunity to recharge both your body and mind. When race day rolls around, you'll be at your peak performance, ready to tackle those miles with a smile on your face.

Happy tapering, fellow runners! And may your marathon or half marathon be filled with personal records, cheers from the crowd, and most importantly, JOY! You've got this! 🏃‍♂️🏃‍♀️💨

Tapering is essentially the art of reducing your running mileage and intensity in the weeks leading up to your race.

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