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How to Taper Before a Marathon

What to Do During the Tapering Phase of Marathon Training

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Updated May 16, 2014

Male jogger resting
Tetra Images - Erik Isakson/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

The tapering phase is a critical part of your marathon training. During the last couple of weeks of your training, it's important that you taper, or cut back your mileage, to give your body and mind a chance to rest, recover, and prepare for your marathon.

Here are some general guidelines for what to do and what to expect during the pre-marathon tapering period:

THREE WEEKS BEFORE YOUR MARATHON

  • Do your last long run or long race three weeks before the marathon. Treat this long run as a "dress rehearsal" for your race -- wear your planned race outfit and practice your race nutrition and hydration plan. After that last long run, cut your mileage down to about 80% of what you were doing for that week.

  • Try to do at least one marathon pace run (6-7 miles) during this week to make sure your goal pace feels comfortable. Doing so will give you a big confidence boost.

 

TWO WEEKS BEFORE YOUR MARATHON

  • With two weeks to go until race day, cut mileage to about 50 to 75% of what you had been doing.

  • Beginner runners who want to do a tune-up race during this time should stick to a 10K or shorter. More advanced runners can do a half-marathon up to two weeks before the marathon. Doing a tune-up race before your marathon can help you predict your marathon time.

  • You'll probably feel tempted to run longer and harder during this time, but you must resist the urge. You're not going to make any fitness improvements with two weeks to go before the marathon. Try to remember: Less is more. Running less reduces your risk of injury, gives you time to rest and recover, and allows your muscles to store carbohydrates in preparation for the big race.

  • Don't be surprised if you feel some new aches and pains during the tapering period. It's a normal part of the process, as your body repairs itself from months of training.

  • Sleep is also an important part of the tapering process. You don't need to sleep for excessive amounts of time, but try to get at least eight hours a night.

  • If you want to get a pre-race, deep tissue massage to loosen up your muscles, do it at least a week before your marathon. A deep tissue massage can have the effect of a hard workout on your muscles, so you don't want to do it too close to the race.

 

ONE WEEK BEFORE YOUR MARATHON

  • Cut mileage to about one-third of normal during your final week before the marathon. Keep your normal pace for the most part. Slowing too much can alter your stride or make you feel sluggish.

  • Give your muscles a chance to rest and skip your strength-training routine in the final week before your marathon. You won't get the benefits from it until after the marathon anyway.

  • Work on your mental preparation by reviewing the course map and visualizing yourself during the race. Get mental tips on how to approach the various segments of the marathon.
    More: Smart Racing Strategies

  • Eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates (whole-grain breads, pasta, and cereals), and drink plenty of fluids. In the week before your marathon, about 65-70% of your calories should come from carbs. Avoid alcoholic beverages since they have a dehydrating effect and can also interfere with your sleep.

  • Take at least one or two days off from running during marathon week. Some people prefer to take off the two days before the race, while others will take off Friday before a Sunday marathon and do a very easy 20 to 30-minute run the day before the race to work out last-minute nerves.
    More: Should I Run the Day Before My Marathon?
    What to Do the Day Before Your Marathon

  • As race day approaches, you're likely to be stressed and irritable. Stay relaxed and confident, and know that pre-race nerves are normal. Try to avoid stress-inducing activities or situations. (For example, don't go to the DMV in the week before your marathon!) Start practicing some methods to deal with pre-race anxiety. It's never too early to start packing for your marathon. Leaving it to the last minute is likely to create unnecessary stress.
    More: What I Can't Sleep the Night Before My Marathon?
    What to Do the Morning of Your Marathon

  • Get your friends and family on board to be your race supporters. You can share these tips for marathon spectators with them to make sure they're ready to cheer you on.

Also see: You Know You're Marathon Tapering When...
10 Marathon Training and Racing Mistakes
9 Last-Minute Marathon Tips
6 Common Tapering Mistakes to Avoid
26 Inspiring Quotes to Get You Through Your Marathon
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