Tapering: What Is It, How Does It Help?

By Carissa Liebowitz

After months of training, every first-time half marathoner will experience “the taper.” This is the time period in the final weeks leading up to the race in which your mileage is dramatically reduced. The taper allows your body a chance to recover before race day.

(MORE: 13 Essential Tips for Your First Half Marathon)

You will continue to run with nearly same amount of intensity, but a reduction in mileage will give your legs a bit of rest.

According to a 2009 article published in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Science, improvements in muscular force and power, hormonal levels, neuromuscular functions, and psychological status can range from 0.5 to 6% after a successful taper in well-trained athletes.

Two Weeks Before Race Day

Most half marathon plans will have a two-week period of tapering, but plans can range from 10 days to three weeks. Stick to your plan regardless of how restless you might begin to feel. Many experienced half marathoners may only taper for a week, but a longer taper for the first-timer will likely be beneficial.

John, a half-marathoner from New York, agrees, “If this is someone’s first half and they are new to the distance and running then I recommend a two-week taper.”

If you become addicted to the distance like so many other runners, you may not need additional time to recover. Marathoner and five-time half marathoner Dave from Michigan adds, “I wouldn’t taper for one [half marathon]. Maybe a little the week of the race.”

Conserving Your Energy

During the taper, many runners find themselves with extra time and a lot of extra energy. Be sure to conserve yourself as much as possible so you are in top form for race day. However, some exercise between runs may help cure your blues.

Linnea, a 14-time half marathoner from Rhode Island has some great advice:

“I try to do some form of activity every day to combat the “taper blues,” whether that’s a short easy run, or swimming, or even a walk. As long as I’m active, I can tell myself that it’s okay that I’m not running my normal volume.”

A short dose of activity will make you feel better without a lasting effect. Remember the point is to prepare your body to be in top condition to run so take highly vigorous activities off the schedule.

Three Days Before

During your taper, you should utilize the final few days to top off your glycogen stores. It may seem counterintuitive to some to be eating carbohydrates and running less. However, you should be filling your body with quality carbohydrates and still be moderately active.

The final 72 hours in the taper are very important and you should make sure you are eating right, sleeping well, and running smart. If you have adhered to your tapering schedule, you will likely feel restless and ready to race by this time.

Stay smart during your final run and do not overexert yourself. Save that energy for the finish line.

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