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Marathon Tapering Tips to Stay Calm

By March 29, 2019May 20th, 20234 Comments
Floris sitting in front of brick wall

Before your big race day, it is important to reduce your training for optimal performance. This is called tapering. There are several approaches to marathon tapering. In this video I discuss:

  • Why athletes should taper for optimal performance
  • Some mistakes athletes make during a taper 
  • How I personally taper
  • How to stay calm and under control during a taper. Yes this is possible to do! haha 🙂

Benefits of marathon tapering

During most marathon training programs, you run several days a week, often 3 to 6 days, for some athletes even 7 days a week. A reduction in training helps heal damage and fatigue in your muscles.

It also helps promote maximum glycogen storage. This will be helpful especially in last part of your race. Most athletes who bonk and hit the wall during a marathon, deplete their body from glycogen due to a variety of reasons. A proper taper can help prepare you well for race day.

How long should you taper?

There are different thoughts of when to start reducing training volume. Some start 3 weeks out, some 3 days out. For a Marathon, I personally start reducing my training volume about 21 days out from my race.

Common mistakes during a marathon taper:

  • Not tapering enough, not giving body enough time to recover
  • Runners cutting out almost everything from training, the total mileage, the intensity, intervals and the recovery miles. 
  • Cutting back the milage gradually, will help feel fresh, ready and excited

There are several different studies that show you don’t get many benefits from a hard workout until 10 days after the workout. 

How I taper for my marathon races:

  • 21 days out I run my last 20 mile / 32km long run. This is my last hard long effort. My training volume reduces from here on:
    • The 1st week of tapering my training volume is about 75% from my normal mileage. 
    • The 2nd week of tapering is about 50% from my normal miles
    • Th3 3rd week of tapering about 25-30% from my normal miles
  • Let’s my training was up to 60 miles per week, 3 weeks out I cut it to 45 miles, 2 weeks out 30 miles, race week Id cut it to 15-18 miles 
  • During a taper, I cut the total mileage and frequency. I still do some speedwork at higher heart rate, however the distance is cut back.
  • During this taper I cut out heavy lifting in a gym and I use my standing desk less. 
  • It’s good to keep an eye on how much you eat, so you don’t gain significant weight. 
  • The last 3 days of my marathon I typically rest, the day before the race I go for a short jog with a few short strides

How to stay calm while marathon tapering?

Now let’s talk about a fun mental part of training. When you reduce your training and your body is healing damage and recharging fatigue levels, you might experience things you haven’t noticed in your training cycle before. For example, after a great training cycle, during a taper I’ve all of a sudden started getting muscle aches or even cramps while doing nothing. Try to stay calm and relax, you’re going to be ok.

When your race day comes closer, it’s normal for race nerves to kick in.  This internal voice in your head might start “did I train enough for my race?” or “should I go for one more extra workout to train a bit extra?”. Here is what to do when the nerves kick in:

  • Hold back that temptation to go out and train hard and long. It’s more likely you’ll injure yourself or you lower your resistance to a cold, so just stay calm.
  • Look back at your training log. I use strava and I take a look at all the workouts I’ve done. Then you realize how much time and effort you’ve put into this training cycle.
  • Sometimes I read previous race reports to see what went well and what could be improved in previous races. 
  • Also, I visualize and rehearse what race day will look like. 
  • During that last week you’ll be running a lot less than you’re used to. Going out in nature for a mellow walk or bike ride can help the positive vibes going as well. 
  • I try to meditate some more and write my thoughts in a journal. 

Closing thoughts

During your last marathon tapering weeks you might get antsy to go out and run hard. That’s a good thing, just hold back that feeling a bit. I often see it like you’re a happy dog who wants to go outside and play, but you just have to stay patient a bit longer until race day. Take a deep breath in, you got this!

I’d love to hear from you in the comments, how do you taper and what do you do to stay calm and under control? 

Enjoy your taper and have an amazing race!!

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  • fil says:

    Hey Floris, I have 2 big races planned this year. The London Marathon in April and a 50 mile Ultra in June. I follow the Maffetone Method and run 8-10 hours a week with one track session a week. With regards to the taper for the London Marathon is it required? I would have run that distance anyway as part of my Ultra training plan – although the pace would be significantly quicker during the race. Your advice would be appreciated!

  • michael says:

    I I turned 50 March 4th. I have been training.for the LA Marathon for about 5 months. I completed the marathon in 4:43. At mile 18 I hit the wall, my quads gave out on me. I dont know how Infinished but I just pushed thru. I never have been a runner but decided to give it a go. It truly was an amazing experience. But I feel I could have done much better . I would love to qualify for Boston. My training wasnt optimal. I hardly did speed work because I was tryin to get my aerobic levels up so I could tolerate the speed training. I’m hoping with another 7 months and an improved training method I could qualify.

  • Flo says:

    Hi Michael, that sounds like a rough race experience but that’s sometimes what we need to try different training approaches. To be honest, I don’t think it was the lack of speedwork that wasn’t optimal in your training. Many athletes train for marathons and run PR’s without doing any speedwork. That being said, after building a solid aerobic base, there is a time and place for speedwork. Another 7 months is a solid amount of time to continue improving. Not sure what your training volume is, however many athletes have experienced improvements by running some more hours (mostly at low HR). Consistency in training and patience are also absolutely key. Have fun with your training. Let me know how it goes!

  • Flo says:

    Nice, those are 2 exciting races. I’d absolutely taper for your London Marathon, even if you design to cut back training volume the last 10 days, you will notice significant benefits. You want your legs to feel fresh and recovered and your energy levels to be up. Instead of 3 weeks, you can keep it a bit shorter. Your races are close to each other, my main point of caution would be to NOT do any speedwork for at least 2 to 3 weeks post marathon. Your muscles will have small tears in them. That’s the timing you’re more sensitive to injuries. All the best with your races. Let me know how it goes! Cheers

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