Tapering for a Half Marathon

When it comes to the taper, less really is more.

When it comes to the taper, less really is more.

In preparation for the Dogtown Half Marathon, my coach had me do a slight taper.  Taper is one of those words that I struggle with, I tend to fall into the worrisome trap where I feel like an easier training week or two will mean that I’m losing some of the fitness gains I’ve made.  However, when it comes to taper, less really is more.  Research shows that proper tapering can result in a 3 percent improvement on race day which could even turn into a runner’s two favorite letters-PR.

Here are 4 tips to survive the taper:

Focus on the Benefits-Here’s the science of why our bodies need to taper in order to have our best performance.  First, it allows our body’s glycogen stores to return to high levels.  Also it allows for depleted hormones, enzymes, and antioxidants to return to their normal levels. Additionally, it gives muscles and connective tissues the time to repair and strengthen.  Giving your body this extra rest period leading up to a race  allows time for your immune system to improve, which the weeks and weeks of intensive training have run down.  Remember to increase your Vitamin C intake and protein to help your body recover and repair during the taper.

Keep Running-Sometimes we misinterpret rest as meaning no running, but this can increase the taper “crazies” and cause more anxiety leading up to a race. If you’re used to running 5 days a week, then run five days a week.  If you usually run a double on Mondays, then plan on running a double.  Stay with your normal running routine, but make adjustments to the intensity and overall volume during the week leading up to race day.  It’s even fine to get in one more speed session, just make sure you maintain your goal pace for that race and no faster. Staying with the routine helps trick your body and mind into thinking this is like any other training week.

My normal running week totals about 80 miles, here is how my coach adjusted my scheduled the week before a half marathon.

M: 13 total (in two runs)

T: 3×1 mile at race pace with 2:00 recover

W: 10-12 total

Th: 10 easy

F: 4-5 easy

Sa: 13.1 at race pace

Don’t Expect to Feel Great-There is a misleading belief that somehow a week or two of reduced miles will make you feel unstoppable on race day.  How I wish that were true, but it’s not.  The magic isn’t in the reduction of mileage, the magic is in the weeks prior to that when you trained hard. Sometimes during a taper I question why a 5 mile run at an easy pace feels a little off, and it makes me start to question if I’m really ready to race.  I’ve run enough races to know that a week of tapering and easy running doesn’t mean that each run of the taper will feel amazing.  The race will still feel hard too, racing hurts, getting a PR means pushing out of your comfort zone and through mental and physical pain.  When the challenge comes, draw on your training, trust your taper plan, fall back on the confidence that you are prepared, and accept the challenge of the race.

Focus on Confidence-Prepare yourself mentally.  I love this advice from Kara Goucher, she says, “You have hard workouts when you are preparing for a race, and you push through the doubts to finish.  Track how you handle the mental side on hard days.”  As we prepare for race day, it’s so important to focus on the hard work we’ve already done, instead of fearing what lies ahead.  I know I’ve pushed through hard miles of tempo and speed workouts where I turned the “I can’ts” into “I cans.”  Another way to build confidence is to focus on a goal.  Set a clear objective by asking yourself, “What is the point of this specific race?”  Giving the pain and effort a goal helps the finish line feel more gratifying. I also love to choose a race mantra.  I usually write it on my race bib and it helps me to set the tone for each particular race.  My last two mantras have been (both are from Kara Goucher quotes):

“Feel the joy that running is.”

“Be unrelenting and believe.”

But this for this half it’s “Accept the challenge and push through pain.”


Remember, that even though it’s hard to let go temporarily, of the level of fitness we’ve working towards, doing too much during the taper can ultimately hurt your performance on race day. Resist the urge to do more, save your energy for the starting line, and you’ll be ready to race.

How do you handle the taper?

2 thoughts on “Tapering for a Half Marathon

  1. Jennifer Kyle says:

    This is a great read! I like to stock pile things – just like this! – to read during my taper. I also always feel stressed and not great the two weeks leading up to a race. So I like going and finding other people who write about the same thing. It helps to know “ok I don’t feel good, but that is normal!”

    GREAT race girl friend!!!

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