The half marathon taper is an important technique to use in preparing for your half marathon. If your half marathon running training has gone well - meaning you feel good and you don’t have any injuries, you will want to build this technique into your training schedule to let all your hard work come through.
The half marathon taper is also more generally known as “tapering” or “peaking”. The word “tapering” means reducing your mileage by a certain amount just prior to an important race.
Tapering is also referred to as "peaking" because by reducing your training mileage you will "peak" during the race. In other words, by reducing your mileage you will achieve better performance during the half marathon.
So how does tapering help you to get better performance? In simplest terms, it gives your body some time to recover and rest before the race. It allows your muscles to repair themselves and also to build up glycogen stores which you’ll need on race day to run your best race.
There’s a lot of research behind this and you can read more detail on my page about the research behind the marathon taper.
For a long distance runner, the half marathon taper is not an easy thing to do. You love to run and you want to be ready for the race, so backing off is very difficult both physically and emotionally.
Essentially, you’re allowing yourself to get some rest just prior to the big event. To do this you will need to have the confidence that you’ve done the work necessary to run the race well prior to beginning your tapering. If you have put in the work and the time to properly prepare for the race, you will feel more confident. But cutting back is difficult for novice and elite runners alike, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself resisting this important technique. Just do it anyway and trust that you will run a better race as a result. And read the research again if it will help convince you that tapering will definitely work.
Tapering also allows you to get some mental rest from all the hard workouts up until now, and to take some time to mentally prepare for the event itself. While you’re resting you can spend some time thinking about your race strategy and visualizing how you’ll handle the difficult parts of the course.
There are a few things you’ll want to consider for your half marathon taper:
First of all, you’ll reduce your mileage by sixty percent (60%) in the final ten days before the race. So whether this is your first half marathon, or if you’re a high-mileage, seasoned athlete, take your running training schedule and reduce it by about sixty percent.
Next, you’ll want to be sure that you jog slowly, to allow your muscles to repair and build up their glycogen stores. In the sample training schedule below there is some speed running included along with the slow running on a couple days. Speed running is fine as long as you don’t overdo it and as long as you completely recover from your intensity training.
You will also want to peak for only the most important races on your calendar. If the half marathon race is your main event, do a taper. But if you’re running a half-marathon as part of a larger picture to help you train for a full marathon then you won’t want to peak for the half-marathon because the marathon is actually your main event. In this case the half-marathon is a training run so you will not do tapering.
Once you’ve done your tapering and you show up at the start line on race day, you will feel fresh and full of energy. Perfect – this is exactly how you want to feel. You will be raring to go – ready to run off like a jackrabbit. But don’t let this fool you into running too fast early in the race.
Make sure you follow your planned race pace even though early on lots of competitors will be running faster than you. Don’t worry, you’ll pass them further on in the race when they get tired. At that point you will still be full of energy and the race will feel effortless if you stick to your planned race pace. So let the others run too fast at the beginning of the race, just don’t join them. You will be racing smarter by sticking to your race pace. And, by the way, this applies to every level of runner – from the first time half marathoner to elite runners. Stick to your race pace.
Sample Half Marathon Taper Schedule
Your half marathon taper should begin about ten days before race day. The last week of your taper should look something like this:
Sunday: Go for an easy one-hour jog. (Optional speed work: 3 - 4 x 400 meter stride outs at 10K race pace. Do a recovery jog in between stride outs.)
Monday: Rest Day. Relax and plan your pace strategy. Visualize how you will handle any difficult parts of the race course.
Tuesday: Go for a 45 minute jog.
Wednesday: Do a 30 minute jog. (Optional speed work: 5 stride-outs (like a quick leg turnover sprint) over 100 meters on soft surface)
Thursday: Rest day. Reaffirm your pace strategy and visualize a successful race.
Friday: Go for an easy, 20 minute jog.
Saturday: Half Marathon Race.
Once you’ve run your half marathon, you will want to make sure you allow your body to properly recover from the race before hitting the road again. To help you do this, you might want to read through the marathon recovery guidelines on this page of my website. Although half-marathons are not as grueling as marathons, your body will still need some rest and recovery afterwards. Doing the right things to help you recover more quickly will ultimately help you get back on the road faster, more comfortably and injury-free.
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