After months of building mileage and intensity during half marathon training, the thought of reducing mileage and tapering before race day might feel a little unsettling. However, taper is a crucial element of any half marathon training plan.
Do you need to taper for a half marathon?
Running a half marathon might be a bucket list goal or a simply a way to keep your training interesting while preparing for a marathon or lengthier race. Regardless of what this half marathon may mean to you, tapering before race day is a beneficial way to show up to the start feeling your best.
Training for a half marathon requires gradually increasing your mileage and fitness over the course of a few months. Most runners agree that finishing a half marathon requires a great deal of grit, perseverance and effort.
Knowing this, it can feel a bit silly to cut things back in those last few weeks and days leading up to the race.
However, no matter how strange it may feel, it is always important to taper before a half marathon.
What does it mean to taper during training?
When runners mention that they are “tapering”, they usually mean that they are lowering their mileage as race day approaches.
Once you’ve completed your peak long run a few weeks before your race, you’ll begin to taper. Taper most often refers to the decrease in mileage beginning about two weeks before race day.
During half marathon taper, you’ll want to gradually back off on mileage and intense workouts, while simultaneously increasing your recovery efforts. Prioritize sleep, nutrition and recovery tactics such as stretching, foam rolling and yoga during taper.
The purpose of taper is to provide your body with some time to recover after months of long runs and hard workouts. The 1 to 2 weeks leading up to your half marathon should provide your body with a bit of a break from the intensity to help you feel your best on race day.
Tapering for a half marathon helps runners arrive at the start feeling fresh, rested and rejuvenated, so we can give it our all and truly shoot for our goals.
How long should half marathon taper last?
As a general rule of thumb, half marathon taper should begin about 10-14 days before your race and last through the end of training. During this two week (ish) period, you’ll want to gradually scale down your efforts rather than making any sudden, drastic changes.
The thought of lowering your intensity and mileage right before a half marathon might feel a little scary. It’s natural to feel as if you want to squeeze in one more long run or one more speed workout, just to make sure you’re truly ready.
Luckily, setting yourself up for taper success is relatively easy. These simple guidelines will help you have a successful half marathon taper for your best race yet.
How to Taper for a Half Marathon
The key to tapering for a half marathon (or any race) is to do so gradually. In addition, you’ll want to incorporate the taper mindset into every aspect of your training – not just the actual running.
Remind yourself of the purpose that taper serves, look through your training log, and fill the extra time by preparing for the logistics of race weekend.
Taper in Training
Reducing your mileage is without a doubt the key element of any half marathon taper schedule. After your peak long run, usually about two weeks before the race, you’ll want to gradually decrease your mileage.
In addition to lowering your mileage, you’ll want to gradually shorten the length of your workouts.
For example, if you worked up to 8 x 400s during your speed workouts, drop it down to 2-4 x 400s during taper. If you were regularly running a 3 mile tempo at race pace, decrease the length to just 1 mile at race pace.
Recovery During Taper
The main purpose of tapering before a half marathon is to provide your body with a chance to recover from hard training efforts before the race. You want to arrive at the start feeling rested, fresh and rejuvenated – not worn down and tired from training.
As your mileage gradually decreases, make sleep a priority. Try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep during taper, if not more. Prioritize spending time off your feet and incorporate regular stretching, foam rolling and yoga in your taper routine.
One of the best recovery tools we have is sleep – and here’s the best part: it’s available at your disposal and is completely free. Hit the hay a little early during those taper weeks to prepare for your half marathon.
Nutrition During Taper
During taper and the days leading up to your half marathon, spend a little extra time focusing on nutrition. Fuel your body to recover from the previous months of hard efforts and long runs. Try to gradually increase your intake of carbohydrates while decreasing fiber in the few days leading up to your race.
While understanding the concept of taper is helpful, it can be very overwhelming to try to implement it into your own half marathon training. Having to decide specific numbers and times can leave us second-guessing whether or not we are doing the right thing for our bodies.
Here is a sample taper schedule to guide your training before a half marathon. Remember that each runner is different, and our bodies respond differently to different amounts of stress. Adjust this sample schedule as needed to best fit your training.
Sample Half Marathon Taper Schedule
Two weeks before race day
10-14 days before: peak long run. This run is usually the farther distance you have run during training.
After your peak long run, it’s time to begin decreasing your mileage. Begin by lowering your mileage to about 80% of what you regularly completed during training.
Here is an example of what training might include 2 weeks before your half marathon.
- 2 weeks before race day: peak long run of 12 miles
- Scale back your regular speed workout of 8-10 400m repeats to 4-6 repeats.
- Reduce your easy run mileage by 2-3 miles.
- Complete strength training and cross training days, but reduce the intensity to 80%.
One week before race day
7 days before: tapered long run. This run should be about 40-70% of your peak mileage.
Here is an example of what training might look like 1 week before your half marathon.
- 1 week before race day: taper long run of 6 miles.
- Scale back your regular speed workout of 8-10 400m repeats to 2-4 repeats, just to keep your legs fresh.
- Complete easy runs of 2-3 miles.
- Skip strength training this week in preparation for the race.
Two days before race day: complete an easy run of 2 miles, or opt for an extra rest day.
The day before the race: rest, or complete a 1-2 mile shakeout run.
Tapering before a half marathon is important for every runner.
This time brings a natural mix of nerves, excitement and anxiety, and reducing your running mileage often leaves runners with more time on their hands than they would like.
Spend the extra minutes and hours during taper preparing for the logistics of race day, building a solid mental strategy, and helping your body recover. Focusing on completing a quality taper before a half marathon will help you hit the start line feeling more prepared than ever before.