Tips: How to Taper for Race Day

In some parts of the country, and you’ll just have to trust me on this one, fall is here, at least in spirit, if not in temperature! Soon, the leaves will be lovely, the crisp mornings delightful, and everything you can imagine will be pumpkin-spiced. And us? We’re excited about the great lineup of fall marathons! The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is just days away on October 9th. The TCS New York City Marathon is less than a month later on November 6th (look for HOTSHOT at the EXPO!) Rounding out the season, the Philadelphia Marathon takes place on November 20th.  These are just a few of the storied events we’re gearing up for. As these races approach, runners will face what is often the trickiest, most nerve-racking few weeks of their marathon training—the taper.

To help ease the stress, we’ve got some tips on how to taper for your best marathon performance. Before we share, a few reminders. First, remember the reason you taper. You want to be at your peak readiness on race day—fueled up, rested, and ready to pace your way through 26.2 exciting miles. Second, remember what you’ve accomplished over these last several months of training. These last few weeks will be the culmination of all that hard work because now your body has a chance to get rest, recuperate, and undergo the final adaptations to your muscles and nervous system. Let’s get this right!

  • When to start tapering – Those last few weeks are crucial as you approach the big day. But, how many is a few? While everyone seems to agree that at least two weeks of tapering are essential, most plans are focused on a three-week tapering plan. Remember, the goal is a pair of well-trained but fresh legs on race day.
  • How much to reduce your running – Again, there seems to be some real consensus around this idea. Week one of tapering should see a 10-15% drop in miles. So, if you typically log 50 miles a week, you’ll want to get in 42-45 miles in week one. You’ll be at 70-75% of your max mileage, or 35-38 miles, in week two, and at about 50% max, or 25 miles at most in the week before the race.
  • Type of training – Remember, you’ve focused your training on this marathon for months. Improved fitness is not your goal during these last weeks. You’re focused on fine-tuning your pace and keeping yourself fresh, rested and ready. In week three, you can enjoy your last long run—20-23 miles. You may even throw in some half-marathon paced miles to boost your confidence. After that, the fastest you’ll run during any session is marathon pace. Despite your wants and wishes, avoid speed training, any cross-training, etc. Keep it light and pace-oriented. In the last week before your race, really focus on keeping your energy reserves. If you feel tired, stop.
  • Nutritional needs – You know you’ve got to carb-up for race day. And add in some extra fluids. And run less? Yes, you’re right—this is a perfect recipe for a little weight gain. And that is perfectly fine! That weight will be the extra fluid along with muscle and liver glycogen stored up and ready to be spent on race day. Make sure you’re getting in plenty of healthy, whole carbs and some extra fluids in this final week. You’d rather stand on the starting line with an extra 2-4 pounds than be exhausted or dehydrated 12 miles in.

One of the great things about competition is the community it creates. Reach out to your running partners, trainers, and friends to get some tips on how they train in those final weeks. Don’t let your excitement or anxiety lead you to the pitfalls of exhausting yourself in the days and weeks before the big day. Ben Rosario, head coach of Norther Arizona Elite, said, “In all my years as a coach, I have never heard a marathoner who takes their training seriously look back after a race and say, ‘I should’ve worked harder in those last two weeks.’ It’s always, ‘I should’ve tapered more.’ Don’t be that guy or girl.” Rest up, runner! Let us know how you taper. What’s worked and what hasn’t? Have you ever been “that guy or girl” who didn’t taper? How’d that work out for ya?

 No matter where you’ll be racing over the next several months, happy training and best of luck to you!



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Shalane Flanagan’s Road to Marathon: Read about the Olympians transition from track star to champion marathoner