Reasons to Taper

Training for a marathon can be daunting. The preparation, planning and time commitment are ultimately worth it once you cross the finish line, but the path to get to your marathon can be long. The hardest part for many athletes is planning out the last two to three weeks of their training program, or “tapering”.

So, what is tapering, why is it so important, and how should you build it into your marathon training plan?

What is tapering?

Tapering in marathon training typically involves significantly reducing the intensity and distance you run in the final two to three weeks of training. The standard marathon training plan will last between 16 and 20 weeks. The tapering period happens in the final few weeks of the plan.

In a standard marathon training plan, you typically complete one long run each week – building up incrementally to around 20 miles toward the end of training, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less. After that final long run, the tapering period begins.

During the taper phase, your training is not geared toward physical improvement, it’s more about allowing your body to catch up to itself. In other words, you will be cutting back your mileage to allow muscle improvement as well as allowing your internal system, like your glycogen levels hormones, enzymes, and immune system, to achieve optimal levels prior to race day. 

What is the purpose of tapering for marathon training?

Any smart runner will taper down in the final weeks before the marathon. Here are some of the main reasons you should taper:

  1. To help you re-energize before race day

Marathon training can take a big toll on your body. By cutting down the amount of running you do in the final few weeks before the race, you’ll feel re-energized and ready to take on those 26.2 miles.

  1. You won’t see any benefits from further training

Marathon training is all about getting yourself fitter and boosting your stamina. You’ll also produce more red blood cells thanks to all that extra training you’re doing. However, once you’ve built up your fitness to a certain level, there’s not a huge amount more you can do, practically, to enhance your fitness levels in the final three weeks of training. At the same time, your fitness levels aren’t going to immediately decline if you ease off the training, so feel good about giving yourself a break

  1. Your muscles will be depleted of carbohydrates

Your muscles store significant amounts of carbohydrates. However, since you will be doing many long runs during training, these stores will begin to deplete over time. Tapering in marathon training allows you to build those carbohydrate levels back up to capacity, meaning you’ll have more energy to draw on during the race itself.

  1. To repair muscle damage

With the hundreds of miles, you’ll have covered over the course of your training, it’s inevitable that your muscles are going to experience some wear and tear. Again, by cutting back on the amount of running you do – plus adding in extra rest days – your body has more time to repair any damage, making you stronger

  1. To help avoid fatigue

The feeling of fatigue can really sap your body of the necessary strength – and your mental motivation – to keep on running and cross the finishing line. Tapering, and the additional rest your body will get, is essential for avoiding this damaging feeling

How to taper for marathon training

Everyone’s approach to tapering is different – some runners find two weeks is just right, while others value three weeks, or perhaps even more. Tapering isn’t about stopping running completely. Rather, it’s about doing shorter, less intense training sessions, which gives you more time to rest and recover. The fundamentals are the same in every case:

  • The day after your final long training run (of around 20 miles), begin tapering
  • After this point, your longest weekly run should be no longer than 12–13 miles
  • Cut down your weekly mileage by around 25%
  • Add one extra day of rest to your weekly program
  • Gradually reduce the amount of exercise you do over the tapering period
  • Continue to follow your eating plan – don’t eat any more or less than what you’ve been consuming so far

Tapering for a marathon is crucial – don’t forget it

Just remember that tapering is crucial! And now that you’re not spending as much time and effort on training, you can add some mobility work, injury-prevention work, and easy-paced runs. 

We hope you keep these tapering tips in mind – especially those currently preparing for the Mercy Health Glass City Marathon. If you’ve been training but have yet to sign up, there is still time to register.

Mercy Health’s orthopedic and sports medicine team of physicians and running medicine specialists are here to help! They are available to assist you during your training and proudly provide medical aid to runners on-site during marathon race weekend.

Learn more about the orthopedic and sports medicine services we offer.