How to properly taper for a marathon in three weeks

Last long run before taper time

You’ve just run your last long run in your marathon training plan for that fall goal race, and feel relieved that the hardest part of training is over. No more packing around multiple water bottles or gels during your long runs; no more spending an entire weekend morning pounding the pavement. You’ve put in the hard work. Now it’s time to ease up and get ready for race day.

But just how much resting up should you do?
Should you still do speedwork?
How long should your weekend runs be now?
Should you still strength train?
What do you eat?

How you taper depends a bit on how you train, but generally you want to cut your training volume by 20 to 30 per cent each week from your highest volume week. So, for example, if four weeks out you ran a total of 55 kilometres (two 7.5 km runs, one 4 km run, and one 36 km run), three weeks out you could run a total of 39 kilometres (two 7.5 km runs at marathon pace with 4-7 minutes of repetitions in each, one 4 km run, and one 20 km run); two weeks out you could run a total of 28 kilometres (two 7.5 km runs at marathon pace and one 13 km run); and the week before the race you could do two easy 5 km runs and one easy 3 km run with a few pick-ups near the end to get the legs moving.

Aside from cutting your mileage accordingly, here are a few other things you should consider to properly taper for a marathon in three weeks:

Strength training

If you’ve incorporated strength training into your marathon training, you should also start to cut back on the total volume (number of reps x load lifted) of your strength workouts. If you’re doing a three-week taper, I would cut the volume of your lower body workouts by 30 per cent on the first week and again during the second week, with no leg training during the last week of your taper. For your upper body and core, I would continue with your current routine during the first week of taper, cut the volume back by 30 per cent during the second week, and cut the volume again during the third week, doing mainly body weight exercises (push-ups, pull-ups, plank variations) at the beginning of the week and foam rolling and stretching toward the end of the week.

If you didn’t strength train during marathon training, obviously now is not the time to start — but incorporating some lower body accessory exercises into your foam rolling and stretching routine will be beneficial as you cut back on running.

Here are a few exercises you can do anytime during your taper. Do exercises 1 – 4 for 10 reps each before moving to the next for a total of three sets. Spend about 10-30 seconds on each foam rolling exercise for a total of one set. Click here to watch videos of each exercise.

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Nutrition

During the the first and second week of taper, focus on eating lots of fresh, healthy foods, staying hydrated and upping your protein intake slightly to help with muscle repair. Keep your carbohydrate consumption the same until the last three days before your race. During that time, eat an extra 100-200 grams of carbs per day to boost glycogen stores in your muscles — your primary source of fuel on race day. The night before the race, don’t feel like you need to inhale a huge bowl of pasta — take in complex carbs during each meal over the entire day and have a light and healthy dinner (like baked chicken and rice with a salad), one that you know sits well with you and won’t cause any stomach upset.

Rest and repair

We all know sleep = repair, so get as much shut-eye as you can over the next few weeks. If you can, book a pre-race therapeutic massage about 5-7 days out from the race. Not only is a pre-race massage relaxing (and might help you sleep better), but also can increase blood flow, reduce muscle soreness, and restore joint range of motion.

Are you currently marathon training? Do you love taper time or do you get antsy? Do you strength train during marathon training? What does a typical three-week taper look like for you?

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Need help with your marathon training plan or taper? Koru Personal Training Race Plans are available to download and can be customized to your time and distance goals. Email me for more info.