Marathon Advice

Written by

Ben Parker

The Runner's Guide to Tapering Before Your Marathon

Nailing the final preparations before marathon day...

Josh Patterson during his final marathon for One 4 Million challenge

From fuelling yourself in the optimum way to finding the perfect shoes to run your race, when it comes to running a marathon, there’s a lot to try and wrap your head around – and one of the most important of them all is the art of tapering. But for most runners, the real battle comes when you actually try to implement this strategy and that’s because so many people fear what will happen if they cut back on training, thinking that much rest time will have a negative effect on their performance.

And yet tapering is designed to have the complete opposite effect. 

Yepp. Tapering is a strategic and essential process that is actually going to put you in peak performance for your 26.2. And to help you through it, our team of world-class coaches have put together this comprehensive guide that takes you through the science,intricacies, tips, and tricks of tapering, leaving you primed to conquer whichever marathon you’re running.

The Science of Tapering: A Prelude to Success

As the race day countdown begins, you’re probably wondering, "What exactly is tapering, and why is everyone saying it’s so darn crucial for crushing a marathon?" Well, fear not, for we have the answers.

In its most basic form, tapering is a deliberate reduction in training volume and intensity in the lead up to the marathon. This is to allow your body to recover and adapt in a way that ensures you're in peak condition come race day. And that’s not just us saying it. This is a scientifically proven way to enhance performance and reduce the risk of injury, which makes tapering the official secret sauce to unlocking your full potential.

The Timing: When to Start Tapering

Ah, the age-old question: when should you begin the tapering process? And one we have got you covered for because the ideal tapering period should typically range from 2 to 3 weeks before your marathon. By doing this, you’re aiming to strike the perfect balance between maintaining fitness and giving your body ample time to recover in the most effective way. Just remember, every runner is unique, so listen to your body and adjust your tapering timeline accordingly (or just listen to the advice on your Marathon Plan, which lays it all out for you in an extremely personalized way).

The Mileage: Scaling Down Your Training

The tapering period is a delicate dance of gradually reducing your mileage without compromising your hard-earned fitness gains. That’s the balance you need to get right. So before you kick your Hoka’s off, collapse on the couch and settle in for a Netflix marathon; tapering is not about stopping entirely, but rather it's an opportunity to focus on quality over quantity. To do this, try reducing your weekly mileage by approximately 20-30% during the first week of tapering, and then by 40-50% during the second week. Trust us, your body will thank you for this smart approach.

Speed Work: Embracing the Gentle Approach

Speed work might just be our most beloved companion when it comes to training, and something that deserves special attention during tapering. You see, while it's essential to maintain some level of intensity, it's equally crucial to avoid overexertion during this period. So try opting for shorter intervals and reduced pace during your speed sessions as a way to strike a harmonious balance between pushing your limits and preserving your energy.

The Long Run Ritual: Fine-Tuning Your Final Efforts

As you enter the tapering period, your long runs will take on a whole new meaning. We’re talking about reducing the distance of your long runs, while maintaining their significance by focusing on race-pace efforts and honing your mental fortitude. To do this properly, embrace the opportunity to simulate race day conditions, from pre-race fueling to hydration strategies, ensuring you're fully prepared for the big day.

Fueling for Success: Nourishing Your Body

Fueling correctly is one of the most important parts of any long-distance run, and this period is no different. In fact, proper nutrition and the right snacks will be the backbone of your tapering journey. To put it simply, as you scale down your training, you’ll want to adjust your caloric intake accordingly to match your reduced energy expenditure. Opt for nutrient-dense foods, including a balance of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats, all of which will support your body's recovery and optimize glycogen storage for the race.

Hydration: Quenching Your Thirst Responsibly

Hydration is obviously a key area of any race, but over-hydrating can lead to some pretty unwanted discomfort and unnecessary bathroom breaks during the marathon (shout out, Paula). So what you want to do is strike the perfect hydration balance, which is best done the old school way: by monitoring your urine color, with the aim of the game being a pale yellow color, which indicates adequate hydration. To manage this best, sip water throughout the day and consider slurping on electrolyte-rich beverages as a way to replenish all those essential minerals lost through your sweaty sessions.

The Mental Game: Embracing the Zen of Tapering

Tapering isn't just about physical recovery; it's an opportunity to fine-tune your mental game. After all, your mind is what’s going to tell your tired body to keep pushing. With this in mind, try to embrace different relaxation techniques – such as meditation and visualization – to calm those tingling pre-race nerves and cultivate a positive mindset ahead of the start line. Another great piece of advice is to trust your training and acknowledge that tapering is an essential part of the marathon journey. This is about savoring the calm before your run, something not enough people do.

Sleep and Rest: Recharging Your Marathon Batteries

Open up the Notes app on your phone and write this down: Sleep is the ultimate recovery tool. That’s a fact. But it becomes even more true during the tapering period, when sleep becomes your secret weapon to success. As such, make sure you’re prioritizing restful sleep each night to allow your body to heal and recharge. That could be through power naps or simply establishing a calm bedtime routine each night. Whichever one you choose, make sleep a mega-priority during these crucial weeks.

The Final Countdown: Race Week Rituals

As race week approaches, find a way to embrace the excitement and anticipation of the marathon while staying mindful of your body's needs. Reduce the intensity of your workouts, focus on staying loose with light stretching and mobility exercises, avoid any new foods or activities that could potentially upset your routine and impact your performance on the big day, and remember, having already put in mile after mile after mile in training, well, you’ve already done all of the hard work. Now it’s just time to bring it home. 

To Sum It All Up

And that, Runnas, is how to master the art of tapering. From understanding the science to fine-tuning your training, to embracing the calm before the run, you’re ready to jog on the spot at the start line of your marathon, take a deep breath and trust in all the preparation you’ve put in. 

And remember: tapering isn't a break from training; it's the final step toward unlocking your full potential and achieving the marathon result you’ve been dreaming of. So, go lace up those shoes with confidence, feel the strength running through you, and rest easy in the knowledge that you've conquered the tapering journey like a true marathon champion. 

Thanks for reading our guide to pre-marathon tapering. For more running insights, inspirations, stories and techniques, follow us on Instagram to take your runs to the next level.

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