Half Marathon Tapering – How To Prepare For Your Fastest Half

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If there’s a half-marathon on the horizon for you, no doubt you’re already training! It’s a great goal for new and experienced runners.

One of the most important parts of training – and maybe one of the most overlooked – is half-marathon tapering. If you taper properly, you can supercharge your performance on race day.

Here’s our guide to half marathon tapering so you can take advantage of this amazing performance tool. Get ready for your fastest half!

What Is a Half-Marathon Taper?

A half marathon taper is a strategy in which you reduce your mileage in the few weeks leading up to race day. Many runners continue training at the same intensity and distance and then wonder why they’re burnt out when they start the race!

This strategy is an important part of every race, from 5K to ultramarathons. The pros do it, so you should too if you aren’t already!

Why Is a Half Marathon Taper Important?

Half-marathon tapering is all about giving your body the rest it needs so it’s fresh and ready for your half-marathon race.

It’s strategically planned, so you’re still doing enough activity to maintain your fitness level but easing it up enough that your muscles get a break before the big race.

This allows you to be in optimal condition on race day—no aches and pains, and all fueled up and ready to run!

How Long Should Your Half Marathon Taper Be?

Most half-marathon training plans allow for two weeks of tapering. For most people, this is the optimal period of time to recover from your training and be ready for the race.

However, some runners may extend it to three weeks, if they’re returning to running from being injured or if their training plan has been drawn out to 18 or more weeks.

Tapering for less than 2 weeks is not optimal. It’s not enough time for your body to go through the full recovery process, so you’ll be at higher risk of injury if you taper for less than 2 weeks.

That means you’ll start your taper 2-3 weeks before race day.

Benefits of Half Marathon Tapering

Tapering has some proven benefits. These include:

  • Increased muscle glycogen levels, leading to a stronger performance on race day.
  • Lower risk of overtraining and developing an injury before your race.
  • Reduced muscle fatigue on race day, so you can run further for longer.
  • Improves the function of fast-twitch muscle fibers for more power in each step.
  • It provides an opportunity for you to lower stress coming up to the race.

How to Plan Your Tapering Schedule

The best way to get the most out of your half marathon taper is to plan it. Here’s how.

Create a Taper Schedule

You can’t really wing it with tapering. You should create a written schedule and integrate into your training plan.

Most training plans include the taper as part of the last two weeks. But if you aren’t following a training plan, you may make a mistake by running too many or too few miles.

Create your half marathon tapering strategy and put it on your training plan. The easier you make it to follow, the better.

Schedule Rest Days

It can be easy to skip rest days because you feel like you’re not doing enough on your training runs!

But the goal is to rest without stopping your activity. You should have 2 to 3 rest days each week while you taper, including the day before your big race. As hard as it may be, stick to it—you’ll thank yourself later!

Try to keep yourself busy and distracted if that will help take your mind off the fact that you should be running. Make sure your activities are healthy, though—no vigorous cross-training, weight lifting, or overeating!

Focus on Nutrition and Hydration

You should already be following some nutrition plan along with your half-marathon training plan. It’s important to keep it up during your taper—remember, it’s all about recovery.

Your body will need healthy, whole foods to build muscle glycogen stores. Stick to your training calorie count during your taper, even on rest days. It’ll give you strength and endurance for your race.

Also, remember to stay hydrated throughout the day. You should be doing this anyway, but it can take time to stay on track during your taper. Aim for 8 glasses of water every day at the minimum.

Work on Your Mindset

Tapering isn’t just all about the physical. There’s a mental aspect too—it’s much harder than it initially seems to intentionally lower the amount of exercise you’re doing when you know you have an important event coming up.

Planning your taper in advance gives your brain plenty of time to come to grips with the idea. But it also gives you a chance to practice self-discipline. For those tapering for the first time, easing the foot off the gas pedal might seem counterintuitive and difficult.

You can psych yourself up by chatting to other runners who’ve done this before and may be able to give you advice. Remember your goals for this half marathon and know that tapering will help you reach them!

How to Taper for Your First Half Marathon

Here’s how to taper effectively. Follow these principles even though they may seem counterintuitive!

Reduce Training Volume

You need to reduce your training volume, but not drastically. The idea is to make your body’s recovery easier, so you can start race day strong and well-rested.

Your first tapering week should reduce your training load by between 30 and 40 percent. The second week is about 50 to 60 percent.

Run at Race Pace Over Shorter Distances

One of the best things about the taper is it gets you used to your race pace. You may be running shorter distances, but your runs should include some speed work – either intervals or stead-state – where you can practice race pace.

Remember, the goal of tapering is to reduce your overall training volume while maintaining your intensity.

Stop Strength Training

We recommend stopping during your taper if you’re doing strength training or other cross-training. Remember, the goal is to be recovered by race day, so you want to avoid overexurting yourself, including cross-training.

Also, if you continue to strength train during your taper, you risk injuring yourself. An injury now means no race in two weeks!

Prioritize Rest and Recovery

Really focus on rest and recovery over these few weeks. Catch up on sleep, foam roll your muscles, wear compression gear, do ice baths… Whatever you do to boost your own recovery.

Example of a Half Marathon Taper Schedule

Ready to do your own half-marathon taper? Here’s an example of an easy taper you can work into your half-marathon plan if it doesn’t have one!

Week 1

  • Monday: Easy 4-miler stretching.
  • Tuesday: Race pace 6-mile run.
  • Wednesday: Recovery day.
  • Thursday: Warm-up, 3 to 4 miles goal pace, cool down.
  • Friday: Recovery day.
  • Saturday: 20 to 30 minutes, accelerations.
  • Sunday: Easy 6 to 10 miles.

Week 2

  • Monday: Recovery day.
  • Tuesday: 5 mile run at race pace.
  • Wednesday: Recovery day.
  • Thursday: 4 miles with strides.
  • Friday: 3 miles at an easy pace.
  • Saturday: Rest day.
  • Sunday: Race day.
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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.