With the marathon season upon us, thousands of people will now be looking to the final part of their preparations. This means tapering – but what does that involve?


Tapering is the reduction of training in the last phase before an event. The idea is to ensure the runner is rested, healed and at their peak for the event. The tricky part is balancing recovery time with maintaining fitness levels. For a marathon, the usual taper time is 21 days.


Muscles and stamina are improved by a combination of exercise, nutrition and rest. The tiny tears in the muscle fibres produced by training need time to heal and produce stronger muscles.

Research has shown that the taper also allows the body to replenish glycogen stores. The immune system returns to its peak, which reduces the odds of your marathon plans being floored by illness.


A thousand marathon runners will have a thousand and two variations on this – but here is a possible rough schedule. The taper is not the time to improve fitness, but to maintain the level that you have built up in the previous months.

  1. Three weeks to go: Reduce your distance or time by 20 to 25 per cent of your peak training. Keep some intense phases in the run, using your planned marathon pace.
  2. Two weeks to go: Up the rest days and reduce your training by another 20 to 25 per cent, your runs should feel a lot easier and generally more comfortable. It is also wise to reduce any cross training that you might be doing as this can be counter productive at this stage.
  3. One week to go: the mileage comes right down but the carb-loading goes up, so don’t panic if you put on a bit of weight! Include some gentle stretching and why not treat yourself to a gentle sports massage a few days before race day?


Running is addictive, especially with the amount that is needed to train for a marathon. It takes quite an effort of will to turn down the miles during your taper. Don’t risk injury with any new workouts. Instead, divert your energy to mental and logistical preparations. Get the admin right, eat well and look after yourself.

Good luck for the big day!


The Author

Lauren Gregory

Lauren is a keen endurance athlete and qualified Personal Trainer. She has many long distance races and half marathons under her belt. Recently Lauren ran the Race to the Stones, the UK's largest ultra marathon - 100 kilometers no less - which in turn has ignited her love for trail running. Lauren works hard on core conditioning and believes this is key to being a strong endurance athlete. Lauren heads up a ladies-only running group and is a big advocate of the Couch to 5km programme.


Mike D.
15 April 2016

Mike D.

I only heard of this last year when I did my first marathon. It seems counter-intuitive at first, but it's a great reason to relax a little. It also teaches us a lot that pushing ourselves too hard will backfire.

Roger B.
13 April 2016

Roger B.

this explains why my friend who is doing the London marathon has a bit more time at the moment - all becomes clear. I take off my hat to all who do it!

Matthew C.
13 April 2016

Matthew C.

Thank you - it is very helpful to have a taper plan structured properly. It takes out all the guesswork. I have seen taper plans from anything between 2 and 4 weeks so right in the middle seems sensible.

Trevor D.
6 April 2016

Trevor D.

I am a marathon spectator, not a participant, but this is still fascinating stuff. Good luck to all these hard working people in the big events!

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