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The art of the taper

Tapering before a long race is as much an art as it is a science

Runners crossing the start line of the 2012 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon
New York City Marathon Canadians
Photo: courtesy of NYRR

Tapering for a half-marathon, 30K or marathon is as much an art as it is a science. There is still a lot we don’t know about how to prepare for our best possible performance in the weeks leading up to the race. That’s not to say that people don’t have very entrenched ideas about how long the taper should be (three weeks? two weeks? 10 days?). The only thing we all agree on is that, whatever theory you go with on exactly when to start tapering and how much to reduce your mileage, tapering is essential for achieving your best race result.

RELATED: Ten marathon taper questions answered

Why taper?

Though newer runners find the idea of tapering counter-intuitive (why would you reduce your training right before your big race?), there’s solid evidence that the reduced volume could improve your race-day performance by three or four per cent–which translates to a personal best of several minutes.

Rock 'n' Roll Montreal Marathon
Photo: Kevin Morris

Is there such a thing as too much tapering?

There are several factors at work in planning your taper, including your level of experience and the number of days per week that you train. And though it’s normal to worry you might be losing fitness while tapering (trust us, you’re not), there is such a thing as tapering too much. No coach would recommend you stop running altogether for three weeks before the race. And if an injury forces you to do that but you’re still hoping to race, you’ll want to maintain fitness by cross-training in whatever way your injury allows, and consider adjusting your time goal.

Berlin Marathon
Photo: SCC Events

How do I do it?

Tapering is about gradually reducing your mileage in the last two or three weeks before a marathon (last 10 days to two weeks before a half-marathon) while maintaining the same intensity. So if your last week of regular training involves a 7 x hills workout, a tempo run, a couple of runs at an easy pace and a long run of 32 to 35K, your taper should have the same number of runs, with five hills instead of seven, 25 per cent less distance per easy run, and a long run of 23 to 26K the first week, and a further reduction the second week.


Quebec City Marathon
Photo: Jessy Levesque

RELATED: With race day only weeks away, it’s time to demystify the taper

Have a great race!

Use the extra time you’ll gain from reducing your training volume to get more rest, and focus on your nutrition and hydration. And eat plenty of healthy food in the few days leading up to the race to boost your glycogen stores.