The Taper (and the mini-taper)

The Tapir

The Tapir

The key to effective marathon tapering is to reduce mileage while still training at the same intensity. Reducing mileage lowers accumulated fatigue, which will help with marathon performance. However, continuing to do tempo workouts, speed workouts and strides will maintain the adaptations that you have achieved over the course of your training program. Personally, I like doing a short race (usually a 5k) two or three weeks out from my marathon or ultra.

Some folks recommend a two-week taper. Others prefer to go with three weeks.

Pete Pfitzinger suggests going with three weeks:
Week 1: reduce mileage 20 to 25 percent
Week 2: reduce mileage 40 percent
Week 3 (the six days before the race): reduce mileage 60 percent

For example, if you are running 60 miles/week during your training, you would reduce your mileage to 45 miles/week, 36 miles/week and 24 miles/week, respectively.

Read more in:

Advanced Marathoning

Advanced Marathoning

Available at:

Hal Higdon also suggests a three-week plan:
Week 1: reduce mileage 25%
Week 2: reduce mileage 50%
Week 3 (the six days before the race): reduce mileage 75%

For example, if you are running 60 miles/week during your training, you would reduce your mileage to 45 miles/week, 30 miles/week and 15 miles/week, respectively.

For more on Hal’s training methods, check out:

For many people, the taper is difficult. It is hard to keep faith in your training while you are cutting back miles. However, the more marathons you do, the easier it becomes (usually).

With all that being said, this post isn’t really about tapering – it’s about the mini-taper! Here’s what I mean by that: The methods above are intended to prepare you for a goal race – a marathon (or ultramarathon, as may be the case). But what about other races that come before your goal race?

I know people who stick with their regular training and squeeze the races in. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes they look like this:


Sometimes they look like this:


My point is, why risk it for a race that is not your goal race? Personally, I like to go with one easy week before and one easy week after a race that is in the middle of my training program (if the race is a 5k, I’ll only do three easy days before and three easy days after). I’ll always take one off-day and sometimes I’ll take two. I’ll also reduce my mileage by approximately 25 percent (including the race). Honestly, I don’t have a ton of evidence to support this method. I am basing it on the same logic as the marathon taper – reducing accumulated fatigue and allowing my body an opportunity to recover. It has also worked for me in the past, so I’m sticking with it.

Aside from reducing the chance of injury, this mini-taper gives me an opportunity to have a decent race. I don’t race that often and I definitely don’t do races just for the sake of doing them. I want to have a chance at a PR and I want to walk away without feeling like I dragged myself through the latter miles. The mini-taper usually allows me to do that.

In case you were wondering, the animal pictured above is a tapir (the spirit animal of my friends L.E. and G.G.). Tapirs are found in South America, Central America and Southeast Asia. The Brazilian tapir, Malayan tapir, Baird’s tapir and mountain tapir have all been classified as vulnerable or endangered. For more on tapirs:

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11 Responses to The Taper (and the mini-taper)

  1. emmelineruns says:

    I do a mini-taper as well. Question for you: do you ever race a distance of equal length as your goal race during the training cycle? For example, I have my goal half at the end of May and have an opportunity for another half in early April and an invite to run a 10k for my grad school the week before. Do I race these? Tempo them? I don’t want to do anything to hurt my goal race and I’ve never done a full-length race in training nor a shorter but all-out race so lose to my goal so I’m not sure how (or if) I should approach it. I’ve typically just done 10 or 5k about a month out to see where my fitness is.

    • Joey says:

      I say tempo them. If you’ve never done a half before then the one in April shouldn’t be done. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

      • emmelineruns says:

        I’ve done half marathons before, just never 6 weeks before a race I’m trying to set a PR in! I’ve got full marathons and multiple half marathons in the tank so it’s not the mileage I worry about, just bodily capacity to “peak” twice in that time frame, yet others have said 6 weeks is plenty of time in between. I don’t usually do tune-up races, just go all out for a goal. Still the same advice? Im thinking a tempo for the 10k is definitely the way to go but not sure with the half.

      • Joey says:

        I say tempo it then if you’ve done a bunch before.

    • Jason says:

      Good questions – if your goal half is at the end of May, I think it is definitely okay to race a half in early April. I’ve done things similar to that before – in fact, it will give you a good idea of where your fitness is at! However, I would not run a 10k a week before your goal race. That is too close. If it were two weeks, I’d say go for it. I think one week is too little time. Even if you convince yourself that you won’t run all-out for the 10k, it will still cause you fatigue that you don’t need or want! (in my opinion, one week is even too close to do a 5k).

      • emmelineruns says:

        Ok thanks!! I’ll take the half and turn down the 10k. I wasn’t sure if a tempo for the 10k was okay but it’s just so close that it makes me nervous. I’d rather get my half goal anyway since there’s no way I’ll touch my 10k PR right now.

  2. I definitely do mini tapers for races…like Lake Effect! The only race I’ve fully tapered for is the NYC marathon and it’s really hard to see how that went since my fitness was at a different level. Great post, Jason – hope to see you this weekend!

  3. I do taper.. just a week, which is fine for the races I do (up to half marathon). I would try a no taper for a 5K maybe, just to see how that feels.

  4. Most of the time I do mini tapers, even if only for 2-3 days I have found it helps. This week for instance I front loaded the week with some more miles but have today and tomorrow off/super easy in prep for this weekend.

    • Jason says:

      Yes! I do the same thing – I like to front load the week to keep my mileage up, but then I’ll also take the off-days. It works for both of us so we must be on to something!

  5. Pingback: Carb-Loading. | Must Love Jogs

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