How to do a Proper Half Marathon Taper

Preparing for a half marathon is an exciting journey, filled with hard work and dedication. As you approach the big day, one crucial step is the half marathon taper to maximize your fitness and your chances of achieving your goal.

Proper tapering can make you up to 5% faster on race day.

The taper period is when you reduce your running to let your body rest and build up energy for the race.

Think of it as saving energy so you can perform at your best. Today, we’ll guide you through the process of a proper half-marathon taper, ensuring you’re ready on race day.

Do You Have to Taper for a Half-Marathon Race?

You might be wondering if you really need tapering for half marathon races.

The short answer is yes, tapering is important. During the half marathon taper period, you cut down on your running before the race day. This isn’t about being lazy or losing your fitness. Instead, it’s about letting your body rest and assimilate all your hard training.

During your half marathon training, your body works hard and needs time to recover. If you keep pushing without enough rest, you could be tired or even get hurt on race day. Tapering helps you avoid that. It gives your muscles and mind a break so you can feel strong and fresh when you start the race.

Even if you feel good and want to keep running, remember that a half marathon taper is a key part of your training cycle.

Tapering is the final step in preparing your body and mind for the challenge ahead. So, yes, tapering is essential if you want to do your best in a half marathon.

How much less should you run during the taper?

During the taper, you’ll reduce the amount you run, but by how much? The key is to cut down your running gradually and not stop running completely.

How Should I Cut My Mileage While Tapering for a half Marathon?

  • In the first week of your taper, reduce your total running distance by 5-10%. For example, if you usually run 30 miles a week, you should run about 21 to 24 miles instead.

  • In the second week, decrease your distance by 25 to 30% compared to your last week’s mileage.

  • During the final week before the race, reduce your running even more. Run 40% to 50% less than the week before.

Remember, these are guidelines. The exact amount can vary based on your experience, how you feel, and what has worked for you in the past. Some runners prefer a two-week taper over a three-week. taper. We will talk about this later.

Will I Lose Fitness If I do a Half Marathon Taper?

A common worry among runners is that doing a half marathon taper might cause them to lose their hard-earned fitness.

But there’s good news: a well-planned taper won’t harm your fitness level. In fact, it’s designed to help you perform better on race day.

During a half marathon taper, your body gets a chance to repair any minor injuries and restock energy stores that have been used up during training. This process doesn’t happen overnight, but the few weeks of reduced running are not enough time for you to lose significant fitness. Instead, the taper helps enhance the benefits of all the training you’ve done.

Think of it this way: You’ve been filling up a “fitness bank” during your training, and tapering is just preventing you from making any big withdrawals before race day. Your body retains its strength and endurance, and you might even feel stronger after giving your muscles the rest they need.

So, while it might feel a bit odd to run less as your race approaches, remember that tapering is a strategic part of your training. It’s about fine-tuning your body to be at its best when the race starts, ensuring all your hard work pays off when it matters most.

Should you run the day before your race?

Whether or not to run the day before your half marathon is a personal choice, but many runners find a short, easy run beneficial. This type of run is often called a “shakeout run.” It’s not about building fitness but about keeping your muscles loose and your body feeling normal.

A shakeout run is usually very light and short, around 20 to 30 minutes, and at a slow, comfortable pace. It’s meant to help reduce stiffness and keep the blood flowing to your muscles, which can ease any nervousness or anxiety you might have before the race.

However, if you prefer to rest completely the day before the race, that’s okay too. Some runners feel better taking a full day off, especially if they feel well-rested and their muscles are not stiff.

The decision should be based on what has worked well for you during your training and previous races. If you’re unsure, you might want to try both approaches in your training runs leading up to the race to see which makes you feel more prepared and confident.

Remember, the goal is to get to the starting line feeling fresh, faast, and ready to run your best.

Three or Two Week Half Marathon Taper Plan

Deciding between a 2-week or 3-week taper for a half marathon depends on your training volume, experience, and how your body typically responds to tapering. Here’s a breakdown of what each taper length might look like and who might benefit from each:

2-Week Taper Plan

Week 1:

Reduce your total mileage by about 20-30% from your peak training week.

Maintain some intensity, like a tempo run or interval workout, but reduce the volume of these workouts. A short half-marathon pace workout can also work wonders to boosts your confidence,

Focus on maintaining your running frequency, just with shorter runs.

Week 2 (Race Week):

Cut your mileage further, by about 40-50% compared to a typical training week.

Include a couple of very short and easy runs a few days before the race.

Two days before the race, consider a rest day or a very light, short jog.

The day before the race, do a short, easy run with a few strides to keep your legs fresh.

Ideal for: Runners who have a lower total weekly mileage, those who recover quickly, or if you’re feeling particularly fatigued as your race approaches.

We gave a 3-Week Taper example above.

half marathon taper

Choosing the Right Taper Length

Listen to Your Body: If you’re feeling worn out or have nagging minor injuries, a longer taper might be beneficial.

Consider Your Experience: More experienced runners who handle high mileage well might prefer a shorter taper, while those new to the distance or who have heavy training loads might opt for a longer taper.

Experiment: If you’ve run multiple half marathons, try different taper lengths to see which works best for you. I personally perform better over a 2-week taper plan.

In either tapering strategy, focus on maintaining good nutrition, staying hydrated, and ensuring you’re getting plenty of sleep. The taper is as much about physical preparation as it is about mental preparation, allowing you to approach the starting line feeling confident and ready to perform your best.

tapering for half marathon

What’s the ideal Total Weekly Mileage for a half marathon taper?

The ideal total weekly mileage for a half marathon can vary widely depending on a runner’s experience, goals, and the specific training plan they’re following. However, here are some general guidelines:

Beginner Runners: For those new to half marathons or running in general, a weekly mileage of 20-30 miles can be a good starting point. Beginners should focus on gradually increasing their mileage over time to avoid injury and build endurance.

Intermediate Runners: Intermediate runners, who may have a few races under their belt or a solid base of running experience, might aim for 30-40 miles per week. This range allows for a good mix of long runs, recovery runs, and some speed or hill work.

Advanced Runners: Experienced runners or those with higher performance goals might target 40-50 miles or more per week. This higher mileage allows for more intense workouts, longer long runs, and a higher volume of training to improve endurance and speed.

It’s crucial to increase mileage gradually, following the 10% rule, which suggests not increasing your weekly mileage by more than 10% from one week to the next. This gradual increase helps prevent overuse injuries.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that mileage alone isn’t the only factor in half marathon success. Quality of runs, including speed work, tempo runs, and long runs, as well as factors like nutrition, rest, and cross-training, all play significant roles in your training.

Ultimately, the “ideal” mileage will vary for each individual based on their background, fitness level, and goals. It’s often beneficial to follow a structured training plan or work with a running coach to determine the best approach for your specific needs and objectives.

When should you run your last long run before a half marathon?

Timing your last long run before a half marathon is crucial for a successful taper. The last long run is important because it maintains your endurance without overtaxing your body right before the race.

Typically, you should aim to do your last long run two to three weeks before your half marathon. This timeframe allows your body to recover from the stress of the long run and gain the full benefits of your training. If you run your last long run too close to the race, you might not fully recover, which could affect your performance.

The distance of this last long run can vary depending on your training plan, but it’s usually not the full half marathon distance. Many runners find that running up to 10 to 12 miles is sufficient to maintain their endurance without overdoing it.

After this last long run, your subsequent runs should decrease in length and intensity as you get closer to race day. This gradual reduction helps ensure your body is well-rested and ready for the challenge of the half marathon.

Remember, the goal of the taper period, including the timing of your last long run, is to arrive at the start line in peak physical and mental shape. By giving your body the rest it needs while maintaining just enough running, you set yourself up for a strong and enjoyable race day.

Race Day Pre-Planning

As your half marathon approaches, having a solid plan for race day is as crucial as your physical training. Here are some tips to ensure you’re well-prepared and can focus on enjoying your run:

Know the Details: Familiarize yourself with the race course, start time, and logistics. Knowing where you need to be and when will ease any race-day nerves.

Prepare Your Gear: Lay out your running attire, shoes, race bib, and any gear like a watch, gels, or hydration packs the night before. Choose clothing you’ve run in before to avoid any surprises.

Plan Your Breakfast: Decide what you’ll eat on race morning and stick with something you know sits well with you. Eating a familiar, easily digestible meal 2-3 hours before the race can help prevent stomach issues.

Arrive Early: Get to the race location early to allow time for parking, using the restroom, and warming up. This can also help you feel more relaxed and focused.

Warm-Up: Even though you’re about to run 13.1 miles, a light warm-up can help prepare your muscles and mind for the effort ahead.

Pace Yourself: Start at a pace you can maintain or slightly slower. It’s easy to get caught up in race-day excitement, but pacing yourself will help ensure you have energy throughout the race.

Stay Hydrated: Make use of water stations along the course, even if you’re not thirsty yet. It’s important to prevent dehydration, especially in longer races.

Enjoy the Experience: Remember to soak in the atmosphere, the crowd support, and the achievement of running a half marathon. It’s a significant accomplishment, so enjoy the journey from start to finish line.

By carefully planning your race day, you can minimize stress and maximize your enjoyment and performance. Good luck, and have a fantastic race!

tapering for half marathon

Looking for a full half-marathon training plan?

When you want to achieve a new half marathon personal record, a structured training plan can be your roadmap to success, helping you build endurance, speed, and confidence for race day.

We have a comprehensive resource that offers a variety of half-marathon training plans, tailored to fit different levels of experience and goals. These plans cover everything from the basics for beginners to advanced strategies for seasoned runners.

Discover the perfect training plan for your half-marathon journey by visiting our detailed guide: Ultimate Guide to Half-Marathon Training Plans for Every Runner. Here, you’ll find plans that guide you through each week of training, along with essential tips on nutrition, injury prevention, and race day preparation.

Diego Alcubierre, a passionate runner and coach, started his journey at 26 with a 10k time of 1:06:23 and has since slashed 30 minutes off his personal record. With five running and coaching certifications, Diego is committed to sharing his expertise and proven strategies to help runners of all levels enhance their performance, stay motivated, and enjoy the journey of running. At Bannister, he simplifies complex training concepts, empowering you to achieve your running goals.