The Half Marathon Taper: How to Master Recovery & Performance

The final weeks of half marathon training are reserved for the notorious taper. If you’re an experienced half marathoner, you know that the taper period is a wonderful physical reset and also psychological warfare. 

If this is your first rodeo, you might wonder why your training plan is decreasing in mileage for the two or three weeks before the race. No, your training plan does not have typos in it. You’re just about to enter a half marathon taper – an essential part of training scientifically proven to help your performance on race day. 

Photo by Geronimo Giqueaux on Unsplash

What is the half marathon taper? 

A half marathon taper period is a strategic part of your race preparation. When done properly, it is the ideal way to make sure you achieve your goal race time. Two or three weeks prior to the race a taper allows you to rest your body and allow your muscles time to recover. This means a decrease in weekly mileage, training intensity, and also a reduction of any strength training regiment

Why we taper 

We taper because the body needs rest. Your plan has rest days each week for this reason, and the taper is like an extended rest day. During the two or three-week taper, there is some cool stuff going on in your insides.

Your muscles and tendons that have been working overtime during the peak of your training finally have an opportunity to decrease the workload and allows them the chance to repair muscle fibers and rebuild stronger. Your hormones level out. Metabolic enzymes and antioxidants return to their optimal ranges. Your immune system restores itself. 

All of this is in preparation for an epic performance. Studies confirm improvement in performance in people who tapered compared to people who attempted to stick to a rigorous training schedule all the way up until the start line. 

How to taper for a half marathon

As with all training plans, the duration of and workouts within your taper depend on how long you’ve been training, your fitness level, your longest run distance, and your body’s individual recovery needs. Since not everyone has a personal running coach, we’ll go over some of the basics.

How long should the taper be?

Most runners follow a two-week taper time for a half marathon. There is recent research that suggests a three-week taper may be more beneficial for some.

Any longer taper that extends beyond two or three weeks should be considered for runners who are using training plans that are 16-weeks or longer.

For a half marathon, you should run your longest long run two weeks from race day and then begin to cut your weekly overall mileage.

How to reduce mileage during the taper   

While there’s is no perfect formula, most taper plans follow the general rule that you should reduce your weekly mileage by 20% to 30% of your peak weeks mileage.

Let’s say your highest mileage week was 20 miles. In the first week of your taper, you would reduce that by four miles. That 16-mile week should include mostly easy runs, some very selective speed work (for example, a tempo run at marathon pace), and a long run. 

Then cut that mileage down by 30% (to 14 miles) from the last week of running. For most runners, this week should include a pretty much easy runs – nothing longer than four miles – and then a final two or three-mile shakeout days before the half marathon or full marathon race.

There should be no hard workouts or speed workouts in your final taper week.

Finally, pay attention to intensity. Your plan might assign you a few harder effort runs during this time, but these should not be performed at your training speed. Any intensity workouts in the final two weeks before the race are only meant to keep fast twitch muscles adapted for the task ahead. To keep it under control, run no faster than race pace during these final weeks.

Nutrition and hydration while tapering 

Despite not running a full load, you must continue to focus on your nutrition and hydration. In fact, this is the time to really dial it in.

No matter how well you fueled throughout your race training, the prolonged effort and intensity leave your glycogen stores – a form of glucose (think, sugar and carbs readily accessible for our muscles) that acts as energy in our body – depleted. 

Use the taper to replenish yourself. For these final weeks, focus on an intake of protein and complex carbohydrates – veggies like sweet potato, fruits, rice, whole grains and legumes. Even up to the week of the race, hydrate not only with water, but also electrolytes.

Most runners actually gain two to four pounds during the taper and you may feel bloated. You’ll be consuming the same amount of calories without the same caloric burn rate. Some call this pent up energy the taper tantrums. Take it as a sign that you’re re-upping your energy for the big day. 

Stretching is an essential component to any half marathon taper training program.
Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

Get your mind right during the taper

Feeling anxious during the taper is normal. First of all, you don’t have the same physical outlet you had just a week or two prior. Second, with the race right around the corner – it’s natural to have pre-race jitters. There’s a way to get through the taper tantrums without being a wreck. Here’s a few taper tips on what to replace the miles you’re missing with some self-care activities: 

  • Foam roll for 10 minutes
  • Stretch for 10 minutes
  • Write a running-related gratitude list
  • Practice race-day visualization
  • If you’re thinking “I’m nervous” replace it with “I’m excited” 
  • Call a running buddy
  • Take a mindfulness walk     

What not to do during the taper

You do not want to mess up your hard work during the taper. So keep it simple, trust the training, and don’t do the following:

Don’t cross train to make up for the miles you’re missing. This is not the time for high intensity training or even gentle cycling. Reduce or totally remove your cross-training activities. Save all your energy for the big race.

Don’t strength train. No pumping iron. You can get back to your strength training routine after the race, but for the weeks of training before your race, focus on healing muscles.  

Don’t think you are losing fitness. Many first-time half marathoners think that if they are not running a full load right up until race day they will lose all the aerobic and anaerobic gains they worked so hard for. Remember, there is a method to the taper madness that will actually help you perform better than you ever did during training. 

Don’t skip the taper. It’s tempting to power through the last two weeks. Maybe you think you need to run the whole race distance “just to be sure.” We’ve all been there, but it’s important to trust the plan and your training. 


How many days should you rest before a half marathon?

At the end of the day, the amount of days designated for a taper is really up to the runner’s preferences. Some runners prefer to take the entire day before the race off while others will prefer to incorporate a shakeout run the day before.

You’ll have to find out what works better for you throughout your racing career, but here are some tips that might help:

  • If you run the day before the race, take the day before that off.
  • Any runs within 5 days before your half marathon should be easy runs, and they should be no more than three miles. 

What is the best taper plan for a half marathon?

A good half marathon training plan will have the taper weeks built in so that it aligns with the duration and training volume of the overall plan, so instead of seeking out a “good taper plan” find a well-rounded training plan.

All of the Half Marathon Guide Training Tips and Plans incorporate a taper period during the training cycle.

When should you run your last long run before a half marathon?

In a two-week taper, your last true long run should be two weeks before race day. However, during the taper, you will still run long. You might do a six or seven-mile run a week before your goal race. While that might not feel long compared to the 10 or 11 you did during the bulk of your training, still approach it with the same mentality and preparedness you would any long run.

What should you eat during your taper?

Stick to a balanced meal plan in the days leading up to the half marathon. Protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and plenty of hydration will help give you an edge on race day.

What should you do in the days leading up to a half marathon?

In addition to your taper training, there are a few things to help you prepare:

  • Go over the course map and note anything significant, like landmarks, hills, water stops, spectator spots, and anything else you feel is important.
  • Ensure you know the plan for parking, shuttle services, and/or public transportation.
  • Search for restaurants for a post-race feast and make reservations. Remember that cheat meal you’ve been dreaming of? Post-race is the perfect time for it.
  • Get your race essentials together: 
  • Extra safety pins 
  • Shop for day-before and race-morning foods 
  • Make sure you know how, when, and where to pick up your bib
  • Relax! You’re ready and you need rest. 

What is the last thing you should do before a half marathon? 

In the moments leading up to the race, you’ll want to complete a dynamic warmup, run a shakeout half or full mile, and probably use the bathroom several hundred times (we kid, but we know that anxious peeing feeling too well). Check your running shoes to make sure they’re tied. As you’re about to take your first step, wish the other runners around you good luck. It’s going to be a great race. 

Everything featured on Half Marathon Guide is independently selected. We may receive a small commission on purchases made from some of our links

0 comments… add one

Leave a Comment