How to Taper to Boost Performance

For the marathon, I typically begin cutting athletes' volume and the length of their long runs three weeks before the race (or up to a week later if they haven't been running high volume). I reduce peak mileage by 30 percent for the first week, 50 percent for the second week, and 65 percent for the week of the marathon (not counting the marathon itself).  

I keep the intensity high during the first week, including one interval workout at 3K race pace and one moderately-long run (20 to 24 kilometres) with slightly less than half at lactate-threshold pace (about 20 to 30 seconds per mile faster than marathon race pace for trained runners). I begin to decrease the intensity slightly during the second week, including two short- to medium-distance runs (8 to 16 kilometres) at marathon race pace.  

The week of the race, I include one interval workout early in the week at either lactate threshold pace or slightly faster, cutting back on the pre-taper number of reps. The final week also includes a daily reduction in volume over the last few days that mirrors the pattern of the weekly reduction (see pre-marathon taper example below). Exactly what you do during your taper will depend on what you did before the taper.  

More: What to Keep in Mind the Week Before Your Marathon

If you want to give your performance a boost, try these tapering strategies before your next race. And if you taper smart enough, maybe you won't have to shave your body hair.

Sample Pre-Marathon Taper

Exact number of weekly miles depends on the pre-taper training volume. This example is based on a pre-taper peak weekly volume of 80 miles.


Week


Monday

 Tuesday Wednesday   Thursday  Friday  Saturday Sunday   Total Miles 
 Week 1  7 miles  9 miles  warm-up; 6 x 1,000m @3K race pace with 3-minute recovery; cooldown  8 miles  9 miles  rest  8 miles + 4 miles @ LT pace + 2 miles faster than LT pace  54 miles
 Week 2  4 miles  6 miles  8 miles 
@ goal marathon pace
 5 miles  7 miles  rest  5 miles + 5 miles @ goal marathon pace  40 miles
 Week 3  5 miles  warm-up; 4 x 1,200m @ 10 seconds per mile faster than LT pace with 45-second rest; cooldown    7 miles  5 miles  4 miles  rest marathon  28 miles
+ marathon
(54.2 miles total)

LT = lactate threshold;  MP = marathon pace  

More: How to Plan Your Taper

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About the Author

Dr. Jason Karp is one of the foremost running experts in America, 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year, 2014 recipient of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Community Leadership award, and creator of the Run-Fit Specialist certification. He holds a Ph.D. in exercise physiology. A prolific writer, he has more than 200 articles published in international running, coaching, and fitness magazines, is the author of five books, including Running for Women, Running a Marathon For Dummies, 101 Developmental Concepts & Workouts for Cross Country Runners, and 101 Winning Racing Strategies for Runners, and is a frequent speaker at international fitness and coaching conferences. Follow Jason on Twitter @drjasonkarp and Facebook at DrJasonKarpRunFit.

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