Tapering: Maximizing the Remaining Weeks of Training Before Your Marathon
Congratulations! You have successfully reached the important final stage in your marathon training: It is time for your tapering period. This means getting ready for your event with less mileage and with fewer—but shorter and faster—runs compared to your previous build-up period when you recorded your highest mileage. The most demanding part of your training—completing your longest miles—is behind you and now is the time to fine-tune your “running shape” as well as recover and relax by adding more rest between workouts.
I salute you for all your hard work. I hope you are happy with your training so far and are satisfied with the progress you have achieved. You have made such a fantastic effort and now it is time to enjoy this final phase—tapering.
The tapering period usually is scheduled for the last two to three weeks before your marathon. Many coaches suggest a full three weeks to give athletes proper time to recover and to restore depleted glycogen and enzymes to their optimum levels. These levels were lowered during the high-intensity workouts in your endurance training periods that you completed over the previous weeks. Interestingly, due to the higher intensity of their training, some elite runners taper even longer than three weeks.
Sure, there is still some more training to come, but now that you are in your tapering period, you can keep your fitness near its peak and retain the higher aerobic capacity you achieved without draining energy by introducing some shorter, faster runs. Tapering means running less during the remaining time before your race—thereby allowing your muscles, your entire body, and your mind to recover so you are at peak readiness for your Marathon Day.
Please see the important information below for the remaining time until your marathon. Included is some general advice for your training and your overall approach for the remaining time and for all levels of fitness. This is followed by a few thoughts listed as “Specific Training Advice” for our beginning, intermediate, and advanced marathoners, with suggestions that combine with your uniquely-tailored marathon plan.
General Advice on Training and Information for the Remaining Weeks Until Your Marathon
- Cut back on your mileage gradually. Starting three weeks before your event, reduce to roughly 70 percent of the average weekly mileage of your previous build-up period. During the second week drop down again to about 60 percent, and the week before your race run even less—down to about 40 percent, depending on your level of fitness. For our beginning marathoners: Please make sure to drop below 40 percent of the mileage of your previous build-up period during your last week before the marathon.
- Add shorter and slightly faster workouts. Plan your uniquely-tailored schedule according to your current fitness level. Set times and distances you are able to manage with a good feeling and a smooth running rhythm. Run all your workouts, even the more intensive sessions, with plenty in reserve to allow your muscles to recover. See the detailed explanation for your training for each running level in the section below.
- Even if you are anxious and might feel the need to train more—please resist the temptation! Check the article: “Listen to Your Body.” There I discuss listening to your body so that you will give it the best chance for optimum results. That means that less running can improve your body’s ability to restore your energy and bring your glycogen and enzyme levels back to their peak, leaving you fully recovered and ready for your race.
- If you are preparing for a marathon with a hilly course, continue with light hill workouts as part of your training. During this final stage of your marathon preparation, focus on short downhill workouts to sharpen your skills for the specific terrain. For our beginning marathoners: a few easy downhill strides can replace 100-meter down- and uphill repeats. You can add these strides after one or two of your easy and shorter runs of the week.
- Rest longer between intense workouts to allow your muscles to recover properly! Tired muscles will lead to an ineffective workout. Train smart during your tapering period to reach your full potential in your marathon.
- Rest can be the most effective training. Feel comfortable with taking an additional day off if you feel you need it. Rest is a powerful tool to help you be in the best running shape for your Big Day. So, if you don’t feel you have fully recovered, please take an additional rest day or decide on an easier workout. Your body’s recovery is important at this stage of training so close before your marathon. Train in a way that leaves you feeling more and more recovered. I hope you also have a chance to sleep well—and your sleeping can be enhanced by prudently planning your travel and last-minute preparation for the final week, as well as allowing your body and mind to get proper rest.
- Try to add some light stretching after your short and easy runs: It will help your muscles recover faster. Avoid stretching after a hard workout when your muscles are still exhausted and tense from the workload.
- Some of you might still be healing from overused tendons or lingering minor muscle pain. Please address these issues carefully and with patience, and get help fast if your discomfort persists. Now is not the time to wait for help. Tip: A massage can help you to get rid of muscle fatigue and lingering tightness.
- Focus on proper nutrition. Choose a diet that generally includes enough water and the right carbohydrates, like oatmeal and muesli, and good fats—those with omega-3’s (eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]) contained in salmon, fish oil products, nuts (preferable walnuts), and organic free-range eggs with a higher level of DHA. Also, for tissue repair, get enough protein, especially during the first week of your tapering period. Later, during the week leading up to your marathon, focus on a higher carbohydrate intake to optimize your glycogen levels. This means you will have a higher supply of all-important glycogen during your marathon. See also the following article for the right products and a good nutritional routine on race morning.
- And finally, tapering provides a great opportunity to check that you are best prepared mentally for your Marathon Day. I hope you are already getting excited, with a “cool focus” as I like to call it. As you get closer to race day, with more and more of your training sessions completed, you may find your energy levels returning and feel in a more uplifted mood. At the same time your focus on all the aspects of your marathon will be sharpened, and you will finally feel ready to plan your unique race strategy. Evaluate the times you ran during the weeks of your highest mileage period and now during your tapering period. Check how you felt then and use the information to help you decide on a time goal for the marathon that feels comfortable and realistic. I often waited until my very last important workouts—even up to 10 days before the race—to finalize my race strategy, the splits I would aim for depending on the layout of the course, and my overall approach for the entire 26.2 miles.
Specific Training Advice for Our Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Marathoners in Conjunction with Your Uniquely-Tailored Schedule
For Our Beginning Marathoners
1. You may be concerned that you did not have enough time for your training. If so, you might like to add another long run before your race. But please try not to worry. Think positively and check what you can still do in the remaining time. You might have another chance for a longer, easy run two weeks before your marathon. It should, however, not be your longest, since there is not enough time to recover. Try a long run of 15 to 16 miles at the most as a steady and easy workout in a relaxed rhythm, and always with the understanding that you can cut it short if you get too tired. Choose a course that is not too hilly and includes enough flat sections, since this long run should not over-tire you.
2. Cut back on mileage. For 7 to 8 days before your marathon, schedule no more than a relaxed 7- to 8-mile run. If you feel strong, you could go one or two miles longer—but not more than 10 miles total. Make sure your pace is not too fast. You may already feel well recovered and might be tempted to run too hard or too fast. So, please be careful! If you feel good, pick up the pace—but only over the last 2 to 3 miles.
3. You might like to include one short tempo run during the second week of your tapering—meaning roughly 10 days before your race. You can do so as long as you are well-rested at this point and you feel comfortable with the pace and distance. One option could be a 4- to 5-mile run starting with moderate pace and finishing the last mile a little bit faster than the average speed you would like to run in your marathon.
4. During the week leading up to your race—between four to five days beforehand—you have an option for a short and relaxing 3- to 5-mile run. For the faster beginners (Beginners II), here is an additional thought: If you feel very good, you might run the last one or two miles at a moderate pace, but make sure you fit in enough rest and recovery time after your run and in the days after to be ready and well energized for the marathon.
5. Keep adding some strides to your training, preferably after one or two of your easy and short runs. You can find the explanation here.
For Our Intermediate Marathoners
1. Please check the information in Point 1 for “Our Beginning Marathoners.” In case you would like to add another longer run, for you this one should not exceed 16 to 17 miles, while adjusting your speed according to your level of fitness.
2. Cut back on mileage. For the weekend before the marathon, schedule a relaxed 10-mile run. Make sure your pace is not too fast. You may already feel sufficiently recovered and might be tempted to run too hard or too fast. If you feel really well-rested and strong, pick up the pace for the last two to three miles. For stronger intermediate II runners, if you are feeling strong and comfortable with the tempo, steadily increase your speed throughout the run, covering the last two miles at a comfortable, moderate pace.
3. It is a good idea to include one tempo run during the second week of your tapering—meaning roughly 10 days before your race. Make sure to choose a comfortable pace and distance. One option could be a 5- to 6-mile run starting with moderate pace and finishing the last two miles a little bit faster than the average speed you would like to run in your marathon. Please, focus on running “Negative Splits”—covering the second half of your chosen distance faster than the first.
4. Here is a suggestion for an easy-to-moderate-to-fast 3-mile run during the week leading up to your race—between four to five days beforehand. This is a typical workout I used in my own marathon preparation: Run the first mile easy, speed up in the second mile to a moderate pace, then finish with a fast mile. The fast mile should not be a sprint; rather it should be run at a good fast pace that you can comfortably maintain to avoid getting tired or injured. Please make time for enough rest after your run so your body is well-recovered and ready for the marathon.
5. As mentioned for our beginning marathoners, continue adding some strides to your training, preferably after one or two of your easy and shorter runs. Please see the explanation above under Point 5 for “Our Beginning Marathoners.”
For Our Elite Athletes or Advanced Marathoners Who Would Like to Run Faster Than 3 Hours
1. If you have not chosen to participate in a half marathon or a 15K two weeks before your marathon, you still have the opportunity for another long run. It should be shorter than your longest marathon-specific run at the end of your highest mileage training period so as to allow enough recovery before your race. If you feel comfortable, steadily increase your pace throughout the run. You might even go the entire distance at a moderate pace and speed up even more for the last two to three miles. Decide on a proper distance according to your level of fitness, but please do not exceed 18 miles. Advanced marathoners, stay comfortably below your planned average race pace; our elite athletes can get a little bit closer to it. Please avoid an overly hilly course. Rolling hills and some flat sections would benefit you most. The reason for choosing this type of terrain is you can maintain your speed yet not get overtired.
2. Take your time to optimize your schedule by comparing your recent training results with how you felt during your previous phases of training of your marathon preparation. Find your own running rhythm and choose your own pace for your faster workouts. Also, you may add a mile or two to the training schedule’s recommendation for the easy runs in between the intense workouts. Go by how you are feeling. Always make sure the last part of a workout is the fastest, but always run with something in reserve since you need to build up, train and, yes, recover at the same time.
3. In the week leading up to your marathon—between four to five days beforehand—I suggest an easy-to-moderate-to-fast 3-mile run. This is a typical workout I used in my own marathon preparation to get ready for the race: Run the first mile in easy to moderate pace, speed up in the second mile from a moderate to a fast pace, then finish with a fast mile. The fast mile should not be a sprint; rather it should be a good fast pace you can comfortably maintain to avoid getting tired or injured. Please try to ensure you get enough rest after your run so your body is well-recovered and ready for the marathon.
4. Keep focusing on your speed work as well—like intervals, shorter downhill repeats, or strides. Here too, always run with something in reserve so that you build up your form in the most effective way.
5. For those of you who are preparing for a marathon with rolling hills, it is a good idea to add some short hill repeats after one or two of your easy runs of each training week. For this workout, you can add downhill runs (but not uphill runs as in your high mileage period), for example in the middle of the week, maybe one day before your tempo run or interval workout.
Please note that I have not included specific training advice for our runners who are competing in “tune-up” races, such as a half marathon, two weeks before their 26.2-mile race. My suggestion is to not schedule an event like this any closer before your marathon. So, if you are participating in “The Half” or a shorter race, I wish you good luck and I hope you can use your run as a nice test of your readiness.
You are getting closer to your “Day of Celebration” and I hope that you might already be feeling the anticipation and excitement that heralds all the fantastic marathon events worldwide. You can be sure that the thousands of fellow marathoners who will join you at the starting line are feeling the same way…
Please feel free to get back to me if you have any questions via my Facebook page at Uta Pippig and Take The Magic Step.
I am wishing you all the best of good luck during these final weeks of your training!
Keep running on happy trails,
Updated March 6, 2016
Updated May 9, 2015