How to Taper

Most runners will be familiar with the concept of tapering – the practice of cutting down your training in the lead up to a race, in order to shed fatigue and improve your performance.

However, exactly how best to taper is a bit of a murky topic for many. Should you stop running entirely or keep training a little? And how long should the taper last?

Getting your taper wrong can cause you to lose excessive fitness, and may leave you feeling sluggish and unprepared on race day.

In this article, I’ll cover some tapering best-practices that you can use to get in peak shape for your next race!

  • The optimum length of your taper depends on the type of even you’re targeting. A longer event (e.g. marathon or ultra-marathon) will benefit from a longer taper lasting between 10-14 days. Shorter races (e.g. 5-10km) typically benefit from a shorter taper of between 3-7 days.
  • During your taper, you should continue to train with your usual training frequency. This means if you usually run 4 days a week, you should stick to this frequency during your taper.
  • The key difference between your taper and your regular training will be the length and intensity of your sessions. You’ll want to cut down your overall weekly volume by around 40%. So, if you usually run 8H/week, then you should aim for around 5-hours/week during your taper.
  • The intensity of most of your sessions should also be really easy. The exception is that you should include one higher-intensity session during the week leading up to your race. This doesn’t need to be a full-blown interval session, but by including a little high-intensity running, you can help maintain fitness, and keep your muscles feeling activated and powerful.
  • If you have a busy race calendar, then tapering too often can cause you to lose fitness. Decide what your top-priority races are, and make sure you taper well for these. The other races can be tackled by simply cutting down (but not entirely omitting) training over the 2-3 days leading into your race.

I’ve included some example taper weeks below…

Ultra-Distance Race or Marathon

This is a ~14 day taper, where the first week shows a ‘normal’ training load for contrast.

Half-Marathon Race

This is a ~7-day taper, where the first week shows a ‘normal’ training load for contrast.

10km Race

This is a ~3-4 day taper, where the first 10 days show a normal training load for contrast.

Written by Dr Emma Wilkins (physiology consultant and coach at High North Running)