running lying in bed

How to taper for a marathon

With three weeks to the marathon, you’ve done your 20-miler and it’s time to taper. But should you really cut the mileage back?

Wouldn’t it be better to squeeze in one more long run? What if you lose your fitness? What if you pile on the pounds? All marathon runners experience these worries.

But tapering is essential.

Not only will it ensure you recover from training in time for the marathon, but it will also improve your performance. Fail to taper and you could end up a weeping, gel-smeared mess staggering over the finish line like I was during my first marathon – Kielder Marathon. Anxious about losing fitness, I kept packing in the miles. It took me 5 hours 40 minutes and I was so miserable running in that I scowled hideously at Sir Coe as he cheered me on. Don’t be that runner.

You’ve earned your rest and your body will thank you for it on the day. Now for the how – here’s how to taper properly.

Tapering is essential. Not only will it ensure you recover from training in time for the marathon, but it will also improve your performance.

3 weeks out from the marathon

You should start tapering straight after your longest run, which will probably be a 20-miler, so your body will be crying out for rest. Cut your mileage by at least 20% – you can stick to the usual distance for shorter midweek runs, but limit your longer midweek runs to around 8-10 miles. This week, your weekend long run should be around 12-14 miles.

Keep the pace easy, except for one marathon-pace run and avoid tough workouts such as hill reps and speedwork.

Now is your last chance to change your shoes. Have a good look at the wear on your trainers and gauge how many miles you have run in them. Running shoes can last anywhere between 400-500 miles after the first wear, so if you’re close to this sort of mileage, or will surpass that by race day, it might be time to upgrade. Take them into your local Run4It shop and we can give them a health check and ensure you’re in the right shoes. 3 weeks to bed in a new pair before marathon day is about right.

You’ve earned your rest and your body will thank you for it on the day.

2 weeks out from the marathon

You can eat! You can sleep! You’re only running 8 miles max! Great, right?

Actually, this can be one of the toughest weeks of your marathon training. Used to more mileage, you may be starting to go stir crazy. Having rested last week, anxiety and nerves can set in, making you feel that you should be running more. Aches and pains, or even sniffles from a lowered immune system during your highest mileage week, can set in.

Now is the time to focus on nutrition, making sure you eat plenty of protein, vitamin c and zinc, and get lots of sleep, to maximise your recovery and fitness gains. This is also a good week to go for a sports massage. If you’ve never had one before, don’t leave it till next week as you can feel bruised for a couple of days after.

Don’t be tempted to cross-train by beasting yourself in the gym, either. Stick to running, about half the amount of your highest mileage week. Weekday runs should be no longer than 6-10 miles, while your long weekend run should be 8-10 miles.

Imagine yourself at each stage of the race, running at the pace you’ve planned, enjoying the atmosphere and running through the finish line with a big grin on your face.

1 week out from the marathon

One week to go! Focus on making all your final preparations – lay out what you’ll wear on the day along with your timing chip, number and the nutrition you’ll be taking. Finalise travel arrangements, make a playlist if you’re listening to music and plan all the tasty food you’ll refuel with afterwards.

Although you’ll inevitably feel nervous, make the most of the building excitement this week to think positively about the race. Take some time, either sitting quietly or while running, to picture everything going well on the day. Imagine yourself at each stage of the race, running at the pace you’ve planned, enjoying the atmosphere and running through the finish line with a big grin on your face. You could even practice your power pose for that finishing photo!

Runs this week should be no longer than 4 miles. Two days before, have a complete rest day but the day before, a short easy run of about 2 miles will get your legs moving and help take the edge off any nerves.

In terms of eating, you don’t have to munch your way through mounds of pasta, as long as you put the emphasis on carbs and hydration. Plenty of fruit and veg, rice, sweet potatoes and even a few treats are all good options.

Marathon day

On marathon day itself, trust in your preparation and the tapering process, and get out there and smash it! Enjoy taking part in an incredible experience!

Shop Marathon Essentials.