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How To Taper For A Marathon

Amanda Wendorff

Preparing for a marathon brings its own set of challenges and strategies, and one key part of that preparation is the period. This phase, which usually starts about two to three weeks out from your marathon, is when you'll start to cut your training down so that you are fully recovered and ready to go on race day.

Whether you're racing your first marathon and new to the concept of tapering or looking to refine your approach, this guide has got you covered. We'll walk you through everything you need to know to make the most of your taper, helping you hit race day feeling ready to show off all your hard work.

Key Takeaways

  • Why a well-planned taper improves performance on race day.
  • How to adjust your training plan during the taper to optimize rest and recovery.
  • The ideal length of a taper for both new and experienced runners.
  • Practical taper tips to manage your training schedule, strength training, and nutrition leading up to your race.
  • Understanding the psychological aspects of tapering and strategies to manage pre-race nerves.
MOTTIV app user Scott Whitbeck on a training run in Florida!

What Does it Mean to Taper For a Running Race?

Tapering refers to the gradual reduction of training volume and intensity at the end of a training cycle, leading to a race. By strategically decreasing your running mileage, you allow your body to "rest up" before race day without shocking it with a drastic change in routine. A well-designed taper is a cornerstone of any marathon training plan, aiming to shed fatigue while keeping you sharp for the big day.

The concept of tapering is rooted in the understanding that the body needs time to recover and rebuild so it can be stronger than before. This period of reduced activity not only allows your body to recover from the demands of months of training but also prepares the mind for the upcoming challenge. A good marathon training plan should include a taper cycle that is tailored to the individual's needs, reflecting their training intensity, volume, and personal experiences throughout the training cycle.

Why Runners Should Taper Before a Marathon

It may seem counter-intuitive to train less before a big endurance event, but if you manage your marathon taper properly, it will actually set you up to run much faster than if you continued to maintain higher mileage all the way up to the race. This approach allows the body to mend the micro-tears in muscle fibers that arise from training and replenish glycogen stores, ensuring you are not just physically prepared but also mentally refreshed and eager to run.

Marathon Training Creates Fatigue

Training for a full marathon is essentially a process of introducing stress to the body to elicit adaptation. Although the word "stress" can seem like a bad thing, in the context of training for a marathon, stress is necessary to improve. Each session of running, whether it's a long run, interval training, or tempo run, pushes the body beyond its current capabilities, prompting it to adapt and become stronger.

However, this stress also leads to fatigue, manifesting as heavy legs, labored breathing, and a general sense of tiredness.

This fatigue is part of training for a big event, and we don't want to try to avoid it altogether. In fact, a good marathon training block will result in quite a bit of fatigue - it means your body has been stressed enough to improve. If you get enough rest and recovery, you'll be a much faster runner.

Remember: Stress + rest = speed!

However, we do want to avoid carrying too much fatigue into marathon race day. Arriving at the starting line of a marathon with excessive fatigue can significantly hamper performance. This is where the taper helps.

A Good Taper Will Leave You Fresh and Ready to Perform.

A well-planned taper can be the difference between a good race and a great one. A good two to three-week taper will ensure that you shed the fatigue from a long training block, fully adapt to all the training you've done, and arrive on race day feeling motivated, rested, energized, and ready to perform! This period allows the body to repair and strengthen, turning all those hard training miles into tangible improvements on the race course.

How Long Should I Taper For a Marathon?

The duration of a marathon taper can vary among runners, influenced by factors such as experience level, the specific goals for the race, and total training volume. A marathon taper generally will range from a week for very experienced runners or those using the race as a training run to two or three weeks for new runners or those targeting a personal best.

For most new runners, a longer taper—two weeks or more—is best. This gives the body ample time to recover from the accumulated stress of training and adapt to the increased demands placed on it. Many marathon plans will have you do your longest long run two weeks out from the race day and then begin to taper gradually after that.

How to Structure a Marathon Taper

A successful taper before a marathon involves more than just cutting back on mileage; it requires a strategic approach to gradually reduce training volume in the weeks before your race while maintaining some intensity to keep the muscles engaged and ready for the big race. This balance ensures that you do not lose the fitness you have worked so hard to build during your training cycle while still giving the body the rest it needs.

Gradually Reduce the Volume Over The Last Few Weeks

The process of tapering should start with a gradual reduction in running volume tailored to your usual training load. This reduction over the weeks leading up to race day allows the body to start the recovery process while still engaging in enough activity to prevent a feeling of sluggishness that can come from too abrupt a decrease in training.

Two Weeks Out From Race Day

Many marathon runners will do their longest long run two to three weeks before their race. After that last long run, the taper begins.

Assuming a two-week taper, a good rule of thumb for the first week of the taper is to run about 60% of the mileage or time running from your peak week of training. For instance, if you peaked at 40 miles a week, reduce your mileage this week to around 25 miles.

The most important training session to cut back is your long run. Keep that run to around 50 to 60% of the longest run of your training. For example, if your longest long run distance was 20 miles, reduce your long run this week to around 10 to 12 miles.

Marathon Race Week

Once you reach the week of your marathon, take the volume down a little bit more so that your race week volume is no more than 50% of the volume of your biggest week.

For example, if 40 miles was your peak weekly mileage, the week of the race should include no more than 20 miles or so of running.

In that final week, you should:

  • Make sure to take a rest day or even two. Many athletes like to take the Monday of race week off. If you're traveling for your race, resting on that day makes sense as well.
  • Stay in your rhythm - if you always run in the morning, keep doing that in the days before the race. Just shorten the runs.
  • Keep one workout with some harder effort, ideally earlier in the week. An example would be 4 x 6 x 400s at your marathon pace or a little faster. 5 x 1 min at goal pace is another good workout.

If you implement these tips, you'll find that a good taper allows you to arrive on the start line feeling fresh and ready to execute your race day plan.

The Day Before Your Race

Although you may be tempted to skip it, it's important to get in a little running the day before the marathon. Try a short, easy run of no more than 20 minutes. Many people call this the "shake out" run - it's simply an easy effort to wake the legs up a bit. Keep this run relaxed, with maybe just a couple of short sprints (also known as pick-ups) for 10 - 15 seconds at the end.

Try to do this early in the day, and then get off your feet as much as you can to keep your legs rested.

Taper Tips - How to Make the Most of Your Taper Time

Effectively managing your taper involves more than just running less; it also includes considerations for strength training, eating, and mental preparation. These tips can help you navigate the taper period more effectively, ensuring that you're in the best possible shape on race day.

Reduce Volume, But Keep Workouts in Your Training Plan

If you've been doing interval or tempo runs throughout your training, keep those going. A common mistake runners make during taper is to substitute their harder workouts with easy runs. While it's important to reduce overall volume, maintaining a bit of intensity in your taper runs—just with a shorter overall duration—is crucial to keeping your body tuned for your goal race.

For example, if you've been doing 3 miles worth of intervals at a 10K pace as part of your training when taper comes around, reduce that mileage to 1.5 or 2 miles worth of hard work.

Strength Training During the Taper

If you are accustomed to strength training, it's okay to keep one strength training session a week leading into your race. However, it's important to reduce the weights and number of repetitions to avoid any muscular soreness before the race.

You may also wish to stop strength training in the one to two weeks leading up to the race. That is a good option as well.

Nutrition During the Taper

Proper nutrition and hydration play a vital role in a successful taper. Part of the purpose of a taper is to give your body the chance to store up energy for race day. Try not to counteract that by reducing your food intake by too much.

You may find with less running, you're less hungry. Still, continue to fuel yourself well. Pay attention to your body's cues, and avoid eating either too much or too little.

"Taper Crazies" and Pre-Race Nerves

Runners often find that the reduction in training volume, together with the race looming on the horizon, makes them feel a little anxious. This phenomenon, known to many as the "taper crazies," is a normal part of the tapering process. Taper crazies ahead of the race are a big reason why many runners will say that they don't love to taper. A good taper helps you to get ready for race day but it's not always the most pleasant!

To counteract this unsettled feeling, add activities that will lower your stress levels, like yoga or meditation. It's also probably a good idea to let the people close to you know that you may be a little more on edge than normal—they'll understand when you tell them it's taper madness to blame.

During taper weeks, it's also common to notice more aches and pains as your body recovers and your focus sharpens. Remember, this is normal, and you'll most likely feel just fine come race day.

The Week of the Race: Rest, Rest, Rest

As the time you're running becomes less and less leading up to race day, a common mistake is to fill the extra time with projects or tasks that you've been putting off while training. Instead, use this reclaimed time for extra rest and restoration. Prioritizing sleep and relaxation can make a significant difference in how you feel physically and mentally on race day.


Mastering the marathon taper is an essential skill for runners aiming to achieve their best performance. By understanding and implementing the strategies outlined in this guide, you can ensure that you arrive at the starting line in peak condition, ready to turn your weeks of hard training into a successful race day experience.

Remember, the taper is as much a part of your training plan as the long runs and speed workouts—it's the final piece of the puzzle that, when placed correctly, reveals the full picture of your potential. Whether you're a seasoned marathoner or a first-timer, embracing the taper with intention and focus can unlock the door to meeting your marathon goal and having your best results. And remember, if you want a training plan doe for you that includes all of the taper workouts you need to do, check out the training plans in our app!

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Amanda Wendorff

| Author

Amanda Wendorff is a professional triathlete, focusing on the 70.3 and 140.6 Ironman distances. In the last several years she’s competed in multiple gravel bike races. Top Achievements: Top 3 Ironman Ireland and Ironman 70.3 Coquimbo, Multiple time top-5 finisher, 3rd Overall at Moran 166 Gravel Race in Michigan, Age group podium at Gravel Worlds, Big Sugar, and Ned Gravel in first year of gravel racing.

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