Tapering is a very important, but easily overlooked, part of any good half marathon training plan. In order to recover from the demands of your training regiment, it is important to drop your mileage leading up to race day. This allows your body to recover, your muscles to rebuild themselves, and any nagging injuries a bit of time to heal. This way, you are setting yourself up with the best chance of success on race day.
What is a taper?
Tapering is lowering your mileage and intensity of runs leading up to race day. Usually, your taper starts right after the last long run of your training cycle. Most people mark their race day on a calendar and then work backward on their training log from there to figure out when their last long run should be, and their taper should start. This is usually referred to as your taper week plan.
During the taper period, mileage will be cut back, and won’t consist of any long runs or super-fast tempo runs. It is still ok to mix in a tempo, interval, or speed work run during a taper, but keep it short and slower than during your training. You want your training volume and intensity to come down to a point where you aren’t really taxing your body anymore. If you do want to do a bit of a longer run, it should be kept below 60% of your last long run mileage.
Most runners take this time to do some extra cross-training, such as cycling or extra strength workouts. The important thing is to remember not to work too hard. You want your body to be topping up its glycogen stores and keeping them full for race day.
A taper is also a good time to catch up on sleep. A lot of runners have a lot of early mornings or late-night runs during a training cycle, so a taper is a great chance to get caught up with some quality sleep before race day.
Another suggestion at the start of a taper is to bump up your protein intake for the first few days. Adding extra protein to your diet will help your muscles to recover strongly and as quickly as possible.
During your taper is a great time to double-check all your calculations for your pace on race day. Using a pace chart is the best way to lock in your pace on race day, as you’ll know roughly what time you should be hitting specific mileages.
How Long Should A Taper Be?
For a half marathon taper, the general consensus on length is 1-2 weeks. Unlike a full marathon training cycle, for a half marathon, you can get away with a shorter taper. This gives your body enough time to recover from the demands of training for your race, but not enough time to actually lose any fitness.
If you feel like an extra few days would help, it’s okay to taper for a bit longer to help get rid of any nagging injuries. A lot of people worry about resting for too long and losing the fitness they’ve worked so hard to gain, but 1-2 weeks isn’t long enough to see any loss. You’ll see more gains from being properly rested than you will see losses from taking the time off your feet. Having a successful taper is paramount to setting a great half marathon time.
Frequently Asked Questions
While most half marathon runners will taper for roughly 1 to 2 weeks leading up to race day, not everyone adheres to that rule. Some people will back their mileage off even sooner for a longer taper, and others might take less than a week to recover. Then there are the few people that run every single day (run streakers). They will run every day up to race day, but most will drop their mileage down significantly.
You can, but just remember that you want your glycogen stores to be filled on race day. If you are going for really long, hard bike rides during your taper, you are kind of defeating the purpose. Easy, shorter bike rides are okay, as are other easy cross-training activities, as long as you don’t go too hard. It is also a great time to add some extra foam rolling, stretching, and maybe yoga into your routine.
The general consensus is to take a 3 or 4-day rest from running before race day. Your last run before stopping should be a bit slower than marathon pace, and not too long. It is more to remind your body that you haven’t lost fitness during your taper and to keep your legs feeling fresh.
“Carb loading” is eating a carb-heavy diet in the day or two leading up to race day. Your body converts carbs into fuel your muscles can use easier than it does with proteins, so this helps ensure you’re fuel tanks are full on race day.
If you want to get the most out of your half marathon training regiment, a proper taper is absolutely essential. It gives your body time to recover from the training, and also time to build your glycogen stores back up for race day. Showing up to race fully stretched and rested, and with full glycogen stores is the optimal way to run your absolute best half marathon.
Even if your training plan goes perfectly if you start your race in less than optimal condition you aren’t giving yourself the best chance to succeed. It could even be seen as a waste of a training cycle to train so hard, but then show up to your race in sub-optimal condition.