How I like to handle marathon taper

19 Sep

Fall marathons are here! This weekend is Berlin if you’re looking for a World Major, or travel to Northern Minnesota and run the Ely marathon and lots of others in-between.

So as you have been training hard all summer/fall logging miles and your legs feel tired that’s good. And just because it’s what we call “taper” time it does not mean we stop training and get rusty.

As a coach and as an athlete I approach the taper this way. First as an athlete I don’t like the taper, I’m a guy who likes to stay active and move my body. I’m also a Triathlete which lends me to lots of cross training in my training plans and helps during taper to stay active and recover my legs better I think. As a pure runner it might be a full rest day, but as a Triathlete I can take that rest day and make it an easy “swim” day something that is not hard, but light aerobic activity to help my recovery and sore legs. So for you “pure” runners people who just train and race running events think about some cross training you like to do, or could to and use as active recovery on those “rest” days when you struggle with the taper.

But back to the taper because we do have to respect it some, I handle the taper where the week before I want to begin it I dial up my peak mileage week a really hard long tiring week that pushes me. Then I start my taper with a drop in mileage but I try and keep my intensity focused around race tempo to keep my fast twitch fibers firing, keep my body in sync and not make too many drastic changes to what I do during a training cycle. My body will all ready freak out from dropping from 73 miles to like 45-50 miles in a week. For a marathon runner I call week one of the taper that week right after your last 20 mile training run of the training cycle.

This is the week I take my runs and dial them back 1-2 miles and then on my long run dial it back to maybe 15-16 miles. But during this week I keep my speed workout, and I keep my tempo pace miles mixed into my runs to stay sharp. Week two of the taper I back down the miles even more but again I keep that same mind set of still run some tempo/pace miles still stay sharp. The runs keep getting shorter the rest days are growing (or cross train active recovery) since I dislike taper days but when I run I run with focus on race pace.

Week three of the taper I really dial it down now, this is the main week of taper for me, this is race week so maybe the weeks prior during taper I still trained every day just with less mileage this final week of taper “Race week” we call it I do respect the rest days, I do slow down and run more recovery paces, and I really dial in my mind for race day! Now even though the runs are short and only a few of them and the goal is less tempo/pace miles so legs recover and get itchy to race I still mix in some short bursts of race pace in each run. Instead of holding my race pace mile intervals for longer durations in weeks prior I’m now only holding those paces for like 60-90 seconds backing off then repeat. I do just enough to keep the legs firing how I want on race day without doing too much and making them tired.


Now as a coach I have my athletes follow the same type of protocol the difference is, most of them will take more rest days, most of them actually like to taper and will dial things back some and most of them do need it they are not quite at my level of crazy. But some of them are exactly like me and so I manage them similar to myself. For my athletes hitting the marathon taper if they have been training all cycle with one rest day a week. Then week one of taper might have two rest days, week 2 might have 3, and week three “race week” might have even 4 days of rest. Again the mileage cuts and progressions are similar to how I taper myself, and I still try and keep them firing off some miles and intervals at goal race pace tempo. I really challenge them to stay sharp and focused and not lose what they have been building, not get too far out of their rhythm and cycle they have been in for months and the body is accustom to.

This can be a challenge for me as a coach because some people really like rest days, some people really like the taper and think that you need to take all this rest, and slow down. Every athlete is different so I handle each of them different but in the end they need to work on the mental game and not getting out of the daily rhythm they have been in because I think they end up flat when that happens.

So as you head into your taper, it can either be the blues, or it can be a celebration depending on your style. Think about keeping some intensity, think about staying sharp and focused on race tempo but enjoy the slow decrease in mileage to bring those legs some much needed rest and recovery to amp you up for race day!


Happy Training and good luck!


Coach MB 


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