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Tapering in Running: Tips, Benefits, and How to Prepare
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Tapering in Running: Tips, Benefits, and How to Prepare

Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
Published on 2022 July 27
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7 min

Are you finding it difficult to improve your marathon time? Tapering could be the missing piece of your training cycle. Read on to find out more about tapering.

tapering in running

Tapering is used in the final days before a big race in order to prepare the body for a long day of running.

It is most often used by runners preparing for a marathon but can also be used to prepare runners for shorter distances like a half-marathon. 

Regardless of the race distance you’re preparing for, tapering has many benefits, and beginning to experiment with a tapering plan that works for you will not only set you up for success in your next race but also many more to come.

What Is Tapering in Running?

Tapering is done in endurance sports to help prepare the body for an upcoming race. It involves significantly reducing the running volume in the two or three weeks leading up to a race to give the body time to rest and recover.

How to taper?

Tapering involves reducing your weekly mileage by 20–30% for the two to three weeks leading to a race like a full or half-marathon.

For example, if you’re used to running 50 miles a week, the following week, you would run between 35 and 40, and the following week between 25 and 32.5, and so on.

By the final week of your taper, you should be running no more than 50% of your weekly mileage, skipping any cross-training exercises, and focusing on mobility work.

How long should tapering last?

Generally, you will begin tapering somewhere between 1 and 3 weeks before race day to get your body in peak race performance. Doing so will help you run your best marathon time yet.

The optimal time for you to taper will depend on your level of training as well as the kind of race you are preparing for. You want to choose a length of time that will allow your body to rest fully without sacrificing your fitness level.

3 Benefits of Tapering

Tapering is done by many – if not all – elite marathon runners in order to prepare their bodies for running long distances.

Although it may take some time to figure out a tapering schedule that works best for your body, after a little bit of trial and error, you will be able to nail down a schedule that is perfect for you and enjoy the many benefits of tapering on race day.

1. Replenishes glycogen stores

During high-intensity aerobic training, you can expect to exhaust all of your glycogen stores

This is because glycogen is what the body breaks down to give your muscles energy, and generally, these levels take around 48 hours to replenish.

This means that if you’ve been running every day, you haven’t given your body the chance to replenish these stores fully and instead have been running on borrowed energy.

While tapering, focus on eating foods that are high in complex carbohydrates – things like whole-wheat pasta, quinoa, white rice, and even winter squash.

This will not only aid in muscle repair and adaptation but also prepare you with all the energy you need on race day.

2. Allows for repair and strengthening of the muscle tissue

Eating a diet that is rich in protein as well as carbohydrates is a big part of preventing muscle weakness and degradation. 

Throughout your training program, chances are you’ve broken your muscles down, and they are in need of some time to repair. If during this time you’ve exhausted your stores of carbohydrates, generally, your body will borrow from your fat and protein reserves to fuel your movements and repair your tissues.

If you’re mostly lean muscle after training hard for several months in preparation for a race, it could be that your body has been relying on the breakdown of muscles to provide the body with energy. This means it’s time to focus on boosting the amount of high-carb, protein-rich food you consume.

Don’t be so afraid of gaining weight that you don’t give your body full recovery potential. Instead, give yourself space to indulge in high-protein foods and complex carbohydrates during your tapering process. 

Even during the muscle preparation process – which uses mostly protein lipids – your body depends on glycogen to fuel this process, which you get from carbs. 

Light exercise and a proper diet are some of the best ways to aid recovery before a big race.

Focusing on your eating can also help you ease the anxiety of not exercising, knowing that you are still doing everything you can to get yourself race day ready.

3. Helps to clear the mind

Although exercise can have a positive effect on decreasing stress, too much of it can do the opposite.

Endurance trainers often experience higher levels of stress and anxiety when in the throws of a vigorous training plan. 

This is because running long distances can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, which, over a long period, can lead to higher levels of cortisol and suppression of the production of serotonin.

It’s also normal to get a little obsessive about hitting your weekly mileage and improving mile times, which can have a draining effect on your mental health.

One of the benefits of a tapering period is that you have the opportunity to balance your hormone levels and give your mind a break from calculating distances.

Take advantage of the space in your training schedule by allowing both your mind and your body to soak in a little rest and recovery.

5 Tips on Tapering

Have you ever run above the average marathon time? If not, implementing some of the following tips can help you not only beat your own personal best but also hit a time that will put you above the average. 

1. Don’t overthink the process

When preparing for a big race, it’s easy to get in your head and feel like you always need to be pushing your limits in order to prepare.

The truth is, though, many experts suggest that even significant drops in your mileage before a race will not have negative effects on your performance. 

They also say that it’s better to drop your mileage significantly and maximize the benefits of rest and recovery than to overthink the tapering process and overwork yourself when you should be resting.

Scale back the race day anxiety, lessen the strictness of your workout regime, and instead focus on doing what feels good for the body.

2. Follow a training plan

Following a set training plan can help you feel more in control during a time when your levels of anxiety might be higher than usual.

Not only that, but it will ensure that you don’t end up accidentally slacking or doing the opposite and not cutting down on mileage as much as you should.

Many runners suggest toning down on all strength training and just focusing on shorter runs and mobility work – this would be a great time for you to step into a yin yoga class.

3. Get plenty of rest

You’ve put your body through the wringer; now it’s time to rest.

After a bout of intense marathon training, it’s natural for not only your body but also your mind to be exhausted. This kind of training can also have a negative effect on your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to getting sick, which is the last thing you want before a race.

Getting enough sleep and generally focusing on resting can help regulate hormone levels, lower levels of inflammation in the body, and just generally bring your body back into harmony so that you can feel your best on race day.

4. Nourish your body with good food

Now is the time for you to get all of your glycogen stores fully stocked and ready to provide you with abundant energy when you race.

Eating enough complex carbohydrates as well high-protein foods and foods that will support your immune system should be a priority.

Think of nourishing foods, like bone broth which has a strengthening effect on your joints, supports a strong immune system, and can even help you sleep better.

This is also the time to enjoy a big bowl of pasta, though heavier meals like this should be avoided the night before your race. 

5. Meditate

You’ve done everything you can to get your body ready. Now it’s time to focus on mindset.

It’s normal to feel sluggish and even nervous in the weeks leading up to a big race, but keeping your energy levels centered and reducing your stress levels should be a top priority.

In response to stress, your body releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. Too much cortisol can suppress the function of your immune system as well as growth and repair processes. 

A Word From Our Coach

Tapering your training volume in the last few weeks before a race can help you feel fresh and ready to hit a PB when you reach the start line.

When you’ve been training intensely, it might feel scary to go through a taper period, and it’s natural to worry about sacrificing some of what you’ve trained so hard for.

The truth is when it comes to tapering, it’s better to be undertrained and over-rested than to poorly assess the amount of rest you need and show up to your race tired; or even worse – sick.

Tapering should be done as an act of self-love to reward yourself for putting in all the hard work the previous months to get ready for your race.

When you notice yourself slipping into anxious, over-analytical thinking about the amount of work you’re doing, remind yourself that this is your time to rest. Instead of doing more strength training, distract yourself with a bubble bath or reading a book.

Bottom Line

Tapering is a part of marathon training that is done by many elite runners to prepare their bodies for a race day. 

It can last anywhere from 1 to 3 weeks and is an important part of every training cycle.

It involves significantly reducing running time, focusing on light cross training and proper diet and exercise. 

Regardless of how long you’ve chosen to do a taper, in the final week before your race, you should be doing a fraction of the amount of running so that you can head into your race feeling well-rested and ready to run.

Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified Yoga Instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed byRosmy Barrios, MD
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