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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