The Perfect Guide To Tapering for a Marathon or Ultra

It’s one of the most important aspects of training and key to performing your best on race day.

RW Editors |

If you’ve ever trained for a race, then chances are you’ve heard about (and probably love) the taper. Taper, or tapering, refers to the reduction of exercise before a competition or race. Tapering is one of the most important parts of your training and a key to performing your best on race day. Research has even shown that it leads to improved function of fast-twitch muscle fibres, which can result in faster race times.

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You’ll usually begin your taper about three weeks from your marathon or ultra, right after you’ve completed your last long training run. Below, we detail exactly what your taper should look like from three weeks out until your race day.

Three Weeks Out
Because the taper follows a fatigue-inducing period of high mileage, you’ll likely welcome these first days of cutting back. The combination of decreased mileage and increased rest can be invigorating – expect to feel excited, anxious, or both.

Reducing your total weekly volume by 20 to 25 percent during this week gives your body a chance to recover from all that hard work by restocking depleted glycogen supplies and repairing tissue damage. For example, if you were running eight kilometres during your shorter mid-week runs, run 6.5km ; if you ran 32 kilometres for the previous week’s long run, run 25.

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You should perform most of your runs at an easy pace. Runners targeting a time goal should do four to eight kilometres at goal pace during a long midweek run – key workouts like this will keep your body and mind tuned into race pace. Rest two days during this week.

Two Weeks Out
During week two of your taper, you’ll reduce your mileage an additional 20 to 25 percent, and you’ll run everything easy.

If you’re targeting a time goal, do the following key workout during one of your longer midweek runs. Warm up for 10 to 15 minutes, then run 1.5 kilometres at 30 seconds faster than marathon race pace, followed by 1.5 kilometres at 30 seconds slower than race pace. Repeat two to four times. When it comes to the track, if you usually run 10 x 400 at the track, adjust that workout to 8 x 400 during this time. Rest two days during this week.

Race Week
At this point, it’s all about staying rested and getting mentally prepared. This week, aim to sleep eight hours a night and stay off your feet as much as you can – reducing stress on your body will allow it to top off its glycogen stores and maintain adequate hydration levels. To combat nerves, schedule movie nights, start a new book, or visualise races you’ve enjoyed.

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Reduce your running to just four days this week. New marathoners may run no more than four to six kilometres at a time, while advanced runners may do a couple of nine kilometres early in the week. A very light, race-pace workout early in the week can help you stay sharp. Run two to six kilometres at marathon pace with a 1.5km warm-up and cool-down. You can also hit the track for 6 x 400 workouts. First-timers looking to simply finish shouldn’t worry about a sharpening workout. Just focus on the race and visualise your success. Rest three days this week to head into race day fresh. The preparation is done.

Trust the process, and then get out there and have fun.


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