Marathon Tapering: 5 Must-Follow Rules to Run Your Best Race

What’s your marathon tapering plan look like?

You’ve been logging miles and training for months leading up to the big day to run 26.2 miles.

Long runs. Speed work. Maybe some strength training.

And now race day is fast approaching.

How are you feeling? A little nervous. A little excited. Probably both.

If you’re wondering what your training should look like in the final weeks before your marathon, you’re not alone.

  • Do you crank up your training all the way to the starting line?
  • Do you dial it way back, skip running, and binge watch shows?
  • Or should your marathon taper be somewhere in between?
Over the last 25 years, I’ve ran a long list of marathons and ultramarathons, including eleven 100-mile races. Plus thousands of training miles, including many Saturday-morning DIY marathons.
And I’ve learned a few things about marathon tapering from experience.
If you’re training to run 26.2 miles, check out these must-follow marathon tapering rules to run your best race.
Plan your last long run before a marathon about two weeks before race day. Aim for 20-plus miles, and don't worry about your time. Just go for distance.

1. Dial Back Miles

Do you need to run 26-plus miles before you actually run a marathon? 
No. In fact, most marathon training plans typically recommend working up to a long run around 20ish miles, but never a full 26.2 miles.

But if you’re super nervous about going the distance on race day, working out your training plan to run 24-26 miles as your last long run is actually a great idea.

So when should you do your last long run?

About two weeks before race day, do your last long training run and then dial back the miles.

Try not to worry about your time, but instead go easy and run at least 20 miles.

Once you’ve banked that last long run, you’ll be better prepared for race day, physically and mentally.

Cutting back miles is a smart marathon tapering plan that will help you rest, recover from training, and get ready to go the distance.

Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to help speed recovery, restore hormone levels, and reduce inflammation.

2. Sleep

Have you been waking up super early to fit in training runs, staying up late, or maybe both? 
Chances are pretty good you’ve experienced some measure of tiredness and fatigue during your months of marathon training. 
You know...like you just want to skip an early-morning training run and sleep in, but you lace up your shoes and go anyway.

That ever happen?

If you’ve been training hard and skimping on sleep (FYI...most adults sleep less than 7 hours a night), you’re at risk for fatigue, feeling run down, maybe even catching a cold just before the marathon.

Sleep also helps restore/lower hormone levels, including cortisol linked to stress and inflammation.

Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for best health. If your work/life schedule makes that hard, marathon tapering is a good time to add more sleep to your schedule.

Need more sleep? What can you change to get more Zzzs leading up to race day?

Drink at least 64 ounces of water per day, up to a gallon. Proper hydration helps speed recovery and improve running performance.

3. Hydrate

If you’re already in the habit of drinking plenty of fluids, keep it up. 
Being well hydrated helps speed recovery after a hard run or workout. It also supports muscle and joint function and mobility.

How much should you drink?

Aim for at least 64 ounces of water per day, up to a gallon a day.

If you’re not in the habit, set a reminder on your phone to drink a glass of water every hour. And drink water at every meal.

If you sweat a lot during training, or you’ll be running a marathon in hot weather, you’ll probably need to drink more than 64 ounces a day.

Eat more carbohydrates and up sodium levels before a marathon to boost energy stores and support hydration.

4. Fuel Your Run

Here’s another often overlooked marathon tapering strategy.

Fuel your run. In the last week before your marathon, you need to bank more carbs and sodium than you might usually eat.

Carbohydrates

There’s no need for a buffet-style pig-out here, but extra bread, pasta, rice, and whole grains, will help you carb-up.

Your body uses carbs for energy. But you can’t store an unlimited supply. It’s one reason the carbo-load is so popular before a marathon.

Enjoy some healthy carbs in the days before your marathon, including the night before. How much partly depends on your body type, but 200-400 grams of carbs per day leading up to a marathon works for most runners.

Sodium

Ever seen one of those finish-line videos where a runner staggers across the finish line, barely able to walk?

In a lot of cases, that’s the result of dehydration and low sodium levels.

You might feel fine at the start of a marathon. Maybe even tick off the first 13 miles feeling strong. But if you’re not well hydrated and sodium levels are depleted from sweating, performance starts to suffer during the later miles of a marathon.

Ever hit the wall?

You know...muscle soreness, stiffness, fatigue, maybe even stomach issues.

Low sodium levels and dehydration tend to be the primary cause.

Plan ahead. During your marathon tapering, eat a little more sodium than usual. Salt your food. Drink water + electrolytes. And you’ll show up to the starting line well hydrated and ready for great race.

Visualize running the perfect marathon from start to finish. If that's too woo-woo, watch some good running movies to get your mind right to go the distance.

5. Visualize

Maybe it sounds a little woo-woo. But research shows, visualizing can actually help improve performance.

During the two-week tapering period before your marathon, you might feel like you’ve suddenly got more time on your hands.

Spend a little bit of that time visualizing the perfect race. Walk yourself through every part of race day. Checking in. Getting to the starting line. Ticking off the miles running on pace with perfect form. And crossing the finish line based on your target.

Rehearsing this will help ease any pre-race nervousness, and help train your brain to go the distance.

If you’re not into visualizing, here’s another way to get your mind right during the marathon tapering phase...watch some great running movies.

Use Marathon Tapering to Run Your Best Race

Want to run a 26.2-mile marathon, celebrate all your hard work, and enjoy the experience? 

Start marathon tapering about two weeks before race day and dial back the miles, sleep and rest, hydrate well, fuel your body, and get your mind right. When you step up to the starting line to run 26.2 miles, you’ll be glad you did.

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Evan Jensen 252
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SANDY, Oregon
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I help RUNNERS reduce injuries, fix running form, run longer & faster by strength training without running ragged. I'm a NASM-certified personal trainer, and hold the record for the most finishes at the Mountain Lakes 100-Mile Ultra in Oregon.

Comments

Rob Myers Fantastic Rundown Evan! Like most runners, I struggle with the prep work before a big race. Getting enough sleep is #1 for me!

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