How To Taper For A Big Race

by | Apr 11, 2023 | Run, Running Training Insights, Sports, Training

Tapering for a big race such as this weekend’s upcoming Totalsports Two Oceans Marathon is a crucial phase of training. Much has been said and written about it over the years and (as with most endurance topics) there are various contradictory theories. If you find what works for your body (and mind) the ideal outcome is that tapering allows your body to recover and replenish its stores and ensures you arrive at the start line 100% ready.  

Tapering for a longer event typically involves significantly reducing the intensity and distance you run in the final two to three weeks of training. As mentioned above, the purpose of tapering is to help you re-energise before race day, restore carbohydrate levels, repair muscle damage, and avoid fatigue.

For a full marathon, the tapering phase traditionally starts about two weeks before, but for shorter races such as a half marathon, the final week is the important one. Read on to get some insights into the importance of tapering and to get some tips on how to do it properly.  

Rest well

This might seem glaringly obvious (and perhaps it is) but it is also arguably the most important aspect of the tapering phase (regardless of what theory you buy into). The famous saying by Martha Graham (an American dancer and choreographer) begs to repeat: “Don’t stand when you can sit; don’t sit when you can lie down.” The idea is that after months of training your body needs the time to recover and heighten the training effect (something you would’ve happened on your rest days during your training blocks). Make sure you get plenty of sleep, too. Read here how important sleep is to improve your performance. 

Tapering
(c) Frank Cone / Pexels

Active recovery

Everyone’s approach to tapering is different, but the fundamentals are the same. Tapering isn’t about stopping running completely. Rather, it’s about doing shorter, less intense training sessions – you want to guard against your body going into a full shutdown mode (this is why Grand Tour cyclists go for three-hour rides on their ‘rest days’ during tours).  The idea is to reduce load and volume but maintain fitness and form. 

How Tapering Will Improve Your Marathon Time
Arrive at the start line at 100%. (c) Run 4 ffwpu / Pexels

Work on your focus

A crucial part of the tapering phase for many top runners is to work on their mental prep for the race. This involves everything from visualising the race effort and mentally preparing for the various challenges (such as big climbs) as well as training yourself to stay focused even when you are tired. Learn more about how trail runner, Matt Healy approaches tapering, here.

How Tapering Will Make You A Better Runner
Mix it up (like going for a trail run) to stay motivated during your tapering phase. (c) Alessio Soggetti / Unsplash

Fuel up

Nutrition is vitally important throughout your training, but perhaps even more so during tapering. As with race day nutrition, the key is to not try anything new during this period and to avoid foods that could potentially upset your digestive system. Ideally, you want to steer away from processed food and each as many nutrient-rich, whole foods as possible. In short, you want to arrive at the start line with a full tank. Drastically lessening your alcohol intake (or cutting it completely) will also pay off massively on race day. 

By following these tips, you will be able to build your own tapering plan and be in optimal shape come race day. Good luck to everyone taking on the iconic Totalsports Two Oceans Marathon this coming weekend.