Spring into a Marathon – Part 6

Spring into a Marathon – Part 6
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Wow, we’re here already… the taper! How did that come round so quickly?

The hard work is done: you’ve run your longest run, you’ve had your highest mileage week. Now it’s time to bring it back down. Within this taper period there isn’t much more you can do to make yourself fitter, and in fact trying to cram in lost mileage in these final weeks will likely do more damage than good.

The Final Phase

Throughout this Spring into a Marathon series we have discussed the different phases of marathon training, and that won’t end with just the build phases – the Taper phase is equally as important to get right as the rest of them.

The purpose of tapering is to allow your body to continue repairing damaged or fatigued muscles, and to promote maximum glycogen storage in the muscles. If you go into a marathon with tired and achy limbs that haven’t had sufficient replenishment of energy stores you will likely burn out.

If you follow the guidelines in this post, and stick to your training plan’s taper schedule you should begin to feel less tired, healthier and stronger. Your immune system should return to its pre-peak training level, meaning a reduced likelihood of picking up an injury or a nasty cold. Not only that but you will really begin to allow the hard work you have already put in to training make its mark on your fitness.

How to Cut Back

If you’re following a training plan then you should already have a sufficient taper plan built into your schedule. You will likely see your weekly mileage drop by somewhere between 25-30% in the first week of taper, 50% in the second week of taper until you’re running next to nothing in the final week.

There are a couple of ways you can cut mileage in these taper weeks:

Cut Frequency

If you usually have a couple of easy days built into your schedule (typical of 5 day-a-week plans) then now’s the time to convert these to rest days. Instead of running a slow 3 miler, take a day off. But don’t use that as an excuse to do something else – put your feet up! Your body will be able to recover more fully from your remaining workouts and will thank you for it.

Cut Distance

If you’re following a 3 day-a-week plan, or really don’t want to cut the frequency of your training, you could just step the distance down. Your typical 8 mile training run should be dropped to around 6 miles with three weeks to go, then 4 miles, then 2. For speedwork sessions, cut out some of your repetitions, for example 10x400m would become 8x400m, then 6x400m, then 4x400m.

Maintain Speed

Although you are cutting the mileage of your workouts in this taper period, you should not be slacking on pace. You should try to run all of your sessions at, or close to, marathon pace. Any speedwork you do do should still be kept at the relevant pace for that repetition. You want to sharpen your training, not slack off!

Cross Training

If you’re a regular in the weights room, now is the time to put down the dumbbells. Any heavy lifting is certainly not recommended; if you’ve already been doing plenty of strength training then just choose lighter weights and perform fewer reps, but you should really avoid weights full stop in the final week before the marathon. If you don’t already regularly train in the gym – don’t start now!

Likewise, any supplementary cardio training, or fitness classes (including yoga) you may have been doing should be limited now. If you can’t ditch it completely, make sure you bring down the duration and the intensity. Light training is key here.

Final Week

Your last week of training should be minimal, with emphasis on just keeping your legs turning. Your plan may look like this (with a Sunday race as an example):

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: 4x400m

Wednesday: 2 miles steady

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Rest

Saturday: 2 miles easy

Sunday: Race day

As you can see, the week’s training is kept very light, with 3 full rest days. Your 4x400m would be run at a fast pace, your Wednesday 2 miles would be at or around marathon pace (this should feel fairly easy by now!). You may not have run on the day before a long run in your training plan before, and if you haven’t and don’t want to then don’t. But some people find that a quick leg-turner the day before the marathon flushes out their legs in order to loosen up and it also rids nervous energy.

During this week do not do anything strenuous, and that includes DIY, partying, long hikes etc. This can all be saved for after the marathon! Your priority now is resting your body in preparation for one final big push.


As you drop the mileage you should also take care with what you are eating. With an increased training level it’s likely you have had to take on extra calories in the form of snacks or treats in order to fuel your day, but with a drop in mileage of around 50% over the entire three week period, you could easily gain a lb or two of unwanted weight. This isn’t to say you should be restricting your diet, just be aware of not filling the extra time you’ve found yourself from not running with lots of snacking!

Cut back on junk food like fizzy drinks, sweets and cakes, and instead focus more on complex carbohydrates like potatoes, pasta, bread, fruit and veg, etc.

For marathon week, you should eat normally for the first few days, and then increase calorie intake slightly but with focus on a higher ratio of carbohydrate. For more information on carb loading, take a look at “Spring into a Marathon – Part 4“.

Taper Madness

You may have heard of, or already experienced the dreaded “Taper Madness”. This is essentially a psychological effect of reduced mileage, and the pressure of the big day mounting. Also, because some people find that running relaxes them or helps to de-stress, it can be quite difficult having to cut back mileage. As nervous energy builds, you may find yourself worrying about your level of fitness, your ability and also whether the rest taken in these final weeks is a waste of all your hard work.

Ultimately there is no cure or prevention of this mental state, but you can expect it might happen and know that it’s simply a result of nerves and surplus time to worry. Socialise with family and friends, get a light sports massage, read a good book, peruse a friendly and helpful health and fitness blog (cough cough, Fitcetera!). Don’t try to fill the time with cross-training, or an eating binge!

You ARE ready, believe in yourself and your training.

Race Day

As race day approaches there are plenty of key things to think about. Keep an eye out for Part 7 of Spring into a Marathon, where we will give you some tips on the final 24 hours before your race, along with a checklist of items to prepare for your race. But for now, enjoy this rest period!

Further Reading:

  1. Runner’s World, 2012. RW’s Ultimate Marathon: Monthly Theme [Online] Available at: http://runnersworld.co.uk/racing/rws-ultimate-marathon-monthly-theme/123.html [Accessed 1st January 2013]
  2. Higdon, H., 2011. Marathon The Ultimate Training Guide. New York, Rodale Inc. Pages 169-180.


CC Image “Warm Ups” courtesy of Terren in Virginia on Flickr.

Georgina Spenceley
Georgina Spenceley

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