The Marathon Taper

As with the rest of training, there is an art and science behind a good taper. Interestingly the taper period causes lots of stress, discussion, self doubt and unrealistic expectations. With feelings of being unfit, heavy and flat alternated with some exceptional speed in the legs. Combine that with extra time to eat or worry about losing fitness, it is no wonder it is mentally a difficult period. Add to this the usual amount of conflicting opinions, and misinformation that pervades through the fitness and sports communities, it is clear why many struggle to get things right in the lead up to race day.

There is some good research on the topic. While the science doesn't answer all questions, it does provide a good guide. Combine this with the experience of has been found to work, and we should be getting close to the a good taper. So what are the guidelines I like to work from when constructing a taper?


The intensity should be held at current levels. Possibly even slightly increased as long as recovery can be assured. This is required to avoid detraining.


Reducing of 60-90% of overall volume appear to be the most beneficial.


Physiological training adaptations seem to be maintained training frequency at only 30-50% of pre-taper. However, it appears the technique and skills reduce if frequency is below at not held at 80% or above of the normal training load.


The science has shown benefits in tapers from 3 days up to a maximum of 28. However, there is no definite guide as to what is best. The art and anecdotal side suggests those with a longer training background, and a higher training load may do better with longer tapers. Those with limited training may detrain faster. Individual variability may further affect this.


A progressive non-linear taper has been shown to have the greatest positive benefit.

Performance Benefit

Studies have shown performance benefits to be only 0.5 to 6% of pre-taper performance levels. The average is a 3% performance increase.


  • 10 days
  • Progressive non-linear
  • Intensity maintained - race pace, threshold, VO2, and speed work in strides
  • Volume reduced by progressively to average about 75% less.
  • Frquency maintained at 90% (only 1 day out of ten off).


  1. 3% would be worth it - turns a 3:04 marathon into a sub-3!

    Re the volume - is that averaging 75% less over the 10 days? If you were running 15k per day previously, you run less than 4k per day over the 10 days?

    Anyway, hope the last week goes well Jason. I'll be looking out for you on Sunday.


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