Taper Time!

The final three weeks are the most important in any marathon-training program.

There are as many marathon-training plans as there are marathoners.  So how do you know if you're following a good one? Take a look at the last three weeks.

Every good marathon-training plan should "taper" during those final 21 days. That means you run less and rest more. For some people, the idea of backing off on their training just before the big race seems counter-intuitive. "So many runners train hard right up to the day of the marathon because they're desperately afraid of losing fitness if they don't," says Patti Finke, who coaches 250 marathoners a year as co-director of the Portland (Oregon) Marathon Clinic. "What they don't realize is that in those last few weeks it's the rest more than the work that makes you strong. And you don't lose fitness in 3 weeks of tapering.  In fact, studies show that your aerobic capacity, the best gauge of fitness, doesn't change at all."

Research reveals a lot more than that. A review of 50 studies on tapering published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones--all depleted by high mileage--return to optimal ranges during a taper. The muscle damage that occurs during sustained training is also repaired. And if that isn't enough, immune function and muscle strength improve, as well, which reduces the odds you'll catch a cold or get injured just before the race. And get this, the average performance improvement by the subjects who tapered in these studies was 3%. That works out to five to 10 minutes in a marathon.

By Bob Cooper for Runners World

Are you gearing up for your race? Have all your long training runs in the books? Now what?

Time to taper. Why? You need to reduce your workload while maintaining race-specific efforts.

  • Rest muscles and allow for muscle recovery

  • Maximize fuel and enzyme stores

  • Mentally prepare for the event

How much to taper?

  • 5K you need three days

  • 10K you need 3-5 days

  • 1/2 marathon you need 7-10 days

  • Marathon or ultra you need 14-21 days

How to taper for a marathon?

  • Your last long run should be 2-3 weeks before race date.

  • Keep your regular weekly running pattern but reduce the volume. 

  • 60% of average volume two weeks prior to race. 

  • 30% of average volume the week of the race.

  • Don't do hill runs, speed drills, or resistance training with weights the week of the race, you don't want to risk injury.

  • Maintain a healthy diet, high in antioxidants so you don't end up sick.  

  • Avoid processed, sugary foods. 

  • Sleep well, this is when your body does all its muscle repair. 

  • Stay hydrated. 

  • Don't try any new foods. 

  • Reduce stress as much as possible.  You really want to conserve your energy for the race so reduce your activity level (this is not a good time to plan a trip to Disneyland or hiking).

  • Foam roll and stretch to help muscles prepare for race



  • Practice your negative split: run the first of the race slower than race pace and end your run faster than race pace. 

  • Try this training run: warm up with one mile, try running two miles at 30 seconds slower than race pace, then three miles at race pace.  Cool down. 

  • Carb Loading, only need to increase by one serving of carbs per day the 1-2 days before race.

RRCA Certified Running Coach, Jody Stoops