How to Taper Before Running a Marathon

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The tapering phase is a critical part of your marathon training. During the last couple of weeks of your training, it's important that you taper, or cut back your mileage, to give your body and mind a chance to rest, recover, and prepare for your marathon.

The Benefits of Tapering

Research suggests that tapering can boost race performance by around three percent, although some runners improved as much as six percent. 

Some of the ways that tapering can boost performance:

Boosts Muscle Power

Tapering at least two weeks prior to an event has been shown to boost muscle strength. During a race, having this extra power can allow you to run faster with less effort or give you the strength to make that final push toward the finish line.

Increases Glycogen Stores

When your glycogen (carbohydrate) stores become depleted, your body starts to burn fat instead. This is great if you're trying to lose weight but less than ideal during a race. Fat is much less efficient as an energy source than carbohydrates; your energy and performance lag when you run low on glycogen.

One classic study by Shepley and colleagues found that tapering before a race helps your body store extra glycogen, which means that you'll have more energy available come race day.

Repairs Damage

Tapering has also been shown to repair some of the damage done by regular training. In a major review published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers found that hormone, antioxidant, and immune strength all returned to optimal levels during the taper period. 

Tapering before an event may make you less likely to come down with an illness before your race.

How to Taper

In order to enjoy the possible benefits of tapering, however, it is important to know how to do it the right way. Here are some general guidelines for what to do and what to expect during the pre-marathon tapering period:

3 Weeks Before Your Marathon

Do your last long run or long race three weeks before the marathon. Treat this long run as a "dress rehearsal" for your race. Wear your planned race outfit and practice your race nutrition and hydration plan.

After that last long run, cut your mileage down to about 80 percent of what you were doing for that week.

Try to do at least one marathon pace run (6-7 miles) during this week to make sure your goal pace feels comfortable. Doing so will give you a big confidence boost.

2 Weeks Before Your Marathon

With two weeks to go until race day, cut mileage to about 50 to 75 percent of what you've been doing.

Keep Your Tune-Ups Shorter

Beginner runners who want to do a tune-up race during this time should stick to a 10K or shorter. More advanced runners can do a half-marathon up to two weeks before the marathon. Doing a tune-up race before your marathon can help you predict your marathon time.

Remember That Less Is More

You'll probably feel tempted to run longer and harder during this time, but try to resist the urge. You're not going to make any fitness improvements with two weeks to go before the marathon.

Try to remember: Less is more. Running less reduces your risk of injury, gives you time to rest and recover, and allows your muscles to store carbohydrates in preparation for the big race.

Don't be surprised if you feel some new aches and pains during the tapering period. It's a normal part of the process, as your body repairs itself from months of training.

Get Your Rest

Sleep is also an essential part of the tapering process. You don't need to sleep for excessive amounts of time, but try to get at least eight hours a night.

If you want to get a pre-race, deep tissue massage to loosen up your muscles, do it at least a week before your marathon. A deep tissue massage can have the effect of a hard workout on your muscles, so you don't want to do it too close to the race.

The Week Before Your Marathon

Cut mileage to about one-third of normal during your final week before the marathon. Keep your normal pace for the most part. Slowing too much can alter your stride or make you feel sluggish.

Eat to Boost Performance

Eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates (whole-grain bread, pasta, and cereals), and drink plenty of fluids. About 65 to 70 percent of your calories should come from carbs in the week before your marathon. Avoid alcoholic beverages since they have a dehydrating effect and interfere with your sleep.

Take Recovery Days

Take at least one or two days off from running during marathon week. Some people prefer to take off the two days before the race, while others will take off Friday before a Sunday marathon and do a very easy 20 to 30-minute run the day before the race to work out last-minute nerves.

Give your muscles a chance to rest and skip your strength-training routine in the final week before your marathon. You won't get the benefits from it until after the marathon anyway.

As race day approaches, you're likely to be stressed and irritable. Stay relaxed and confident, and know that pre-race nerves are normal. Try to avoid stress-inducing activities or situations. (For example, don't go to the DMV in the week before your marathon!)

Start practicing some methods to deal with pre-race anxiety. It's never too early to start packing for your marathon. Leaving it to the last minute is likely to create unnecessary stress.

Work on your mental preparation by reviewing the course map and visualizing yourself during the race. Get mental tips on how to approach the various segments of the marathon.

A Word From Verywell

Taping before your race can help make sure that you are ready to perform your best when its time to hit the course. You'll be able to head to your event with confidence that you have the strength and endurance to power through and finish strong.

Get your friends and family on board to be your race supporters. You can share these tips for marathon spectators with them to make sure they're ready to cheer you on.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mujika I, Padilla S. Scientific bases for precompetition tapering strategiesMed Sci Sports Exerc. 2003;35(7):1182–1187. doi:10.1249/01.MSS.0000074448.73931.11

  2. Murach K, Bagley J. Less is more: the physiological basis for tapering in endurance, strength, and power athletes. Sports. 2015;3(3):209-218.

  3. Pritchard H, Keogh J, Barnes M, McGuigan M. Effects and mechanisms of tapering in maximizing muscular strength. Strength Cond J. 2015;37:72-83. doi:10.1519/SSC.0000000000000125

  4. Shepley B, MacDougall JD, Cipriano N, Sutton JR, Tarnopolsky MA, Coates G. Physiological effects of tapering in highly trained athletesJ Appl Physiol. 1992;72(2):706–711. doi:10.1152/jappl.1992.72.2.706

  5. Martin T, Arnal PJ, Hoffman MD, Millet GY. Sleep habits and strategies of ultramarathon runnersPLoS One. 2018;13(5):e0194705. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0194705

  6. Sanford Health. Marathon week nutrition.

Additional Reading

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.