Short Taper

Time to talk about the taper for the marathon. As with just about every single element in training there is way too much information available on the topic. There is a science behind the taper, but there is also an art. My approach doesn't agree with a lot of the general consensus out there on the blogs and running forums. However, there is a lot of reasoning and I think, solid justification in my approach.

My Taper:

Last long run (33km), easy, building to near marathon pace and held oer the last 12km with some increased efforts on the final hills. 11 days prior to race day.

Taper then starts 11 days out.

The focus will be almost entirely recovery. Just a very small amount of faster running thrown in to keep the feel in my legs. My approach this year compared to previously will be to take everything even easier.

So most days will consist of a 30-60 minute run, performed very comfortably. The aim is to have it feel as active recovery, where I increase the blood flow, lubricate the joints and then move onto some stretching and minor soft tissue work to help alleviate the few soft tissue issues that have been creeping in.

Otherwise, the last main run will be on the Monday, 7 days prior to the race. This will involve about 3km warm up and 3km cool down, with the main set being 7.75km at marathon pace (or slightly faster). Then on the Wednesday or Thursday I'll go through a short, comfortable session of run-throughs of about 120-150m. Nothing taxing, just a little to spike the system.

In the program I will include 2 or 3 days off. Exactly where these fall will depend on how I feel. Given my difficulties with handling any substantial training load recently, I am really going to err on the side of doing too little. Plenty may argue that I should have extended my taper out to beyond two weeks, even 3 or 4. However, from past experience I have found I perform better off the shorter tapers. The reduced weekly volume of training over the last couple of months, is likely to mean that I will lose fitness at a faster rate too. It is all good in theory. Race day I will find out exactly where I am at.


There is nothing magic about tapering. It cannot make up for training that hasn't been done. On the other hand, getting the taper wrong (or not having one) can result in some significant detriment for race day. It is important to keep in mind the point of the taper:

To recover from previous training in order to have an optimal performance on race day.

This also implies that we do not want a loss of fitness due to the reduced training load. The balance isn't always easy to get, but there are a few principles that can help get close to the mark. The guidelines I work from have been taken from a number of published research studies, case studies and my own experiences, both with my own training and from coaching others.

It is reported we can gain a performance increase above non-taper performance of between 0.5-6.0%. The average being 3%. Unfortunately for me, I haven't performed any true indicator workouts recently, so it is hard for me to know exactly where I am at now. More on this will be discussed when I cover pacing for the marathon.

Intensity should be maintained, or even slightly increased, as long as recovery can be assured.

Reducing overall training volume by 60-90% appears to be optimal. However, training frequency is a different story. Skill and technique seems to require maintaining a frequency of at least 80%, while physiological fitness can be maintained with cutting frequency down to 30-50%.

Effective tapers have been reported to last anywhere between 3 to 28 days. However, there is no consensus on what truly is optimal. There is plenty of suggestion that higher and longer training loads may do better with longer training loads, and that detraining may occur in those who extend the taper, but have a lighter training regimen.

An initial large reduction in training volume, followed by a more gradual progressive reduction in volume appears to be more effective than a linear or step reduction.

Last Chance

So after my final long run, there isn't a lot to do. I will expect to feel flat and unfit as seems to go hand-in-hand with the tapering process. At this stage there is nothing I can change about the training that has and hasn't been completed over the last few weeks. Time to count down.


  1. I'll be interested to read about your pacing strategy given the build-up. Do you think you're still on for a PB attempt?


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