Marathon Peaking and Tapering

Marathon Peaking and Tapering {Marathon Monday} + Portland Training Week 15

After weeks of arduous training, there is nothing quite as satisfying as finishing that final long run of your highest week of mileage. Everything from here on out is just resting up for the race, right?

Not quite. Why scientific studies demonstrate that a simple reduction in mileage will prepare you to run a fast goal race, many coaches and physiologists, based on their observations of athletes, argue that the tapering period should also be thought of as a peaking period.

Marathon Peaking and Tapering

Marathon Peaking and Tapering

Greg McMillan, the renowned coach who developed the McMillan race predictor and pace calculator, suggests in this article for Running Times that the taper phase should also be the peaking phase. After your highest week of mileage, you are not only tapering for the race, but you are preparing yourself for your peak performance at your goal distance.

Marathon peaking and tapering are simultaneously a physical and mental preparation for race day. Every runner has heard of the taper crazies, especially during the last few weeks of marathon training; perhaps, though, you do not need to endure a case of the taper crazies. You want to strike the right balance of recovering from the hardest weeks of training while avoiding the sensation of feeling stale or losing some fitness.

Think of it this way: it is inadvisable to suddenly crank up your mileage and add in several challenging workouts. Likewise, it’s not the most prudent action to suddenly halve your mileage and cease all fast running.

According to McMillan, Luke Humphrey (the author of Hansons Marathon Method), and Jeff Gaudette (head coach at Runners Connect), too much tapering is more of a concern than not enough tapering. You certainly do not want to run your peak week of mileage in the week before a race or add in one 20 miler only a few days before your marathon, but cutting out any intense workouts and significantly reducing your mileage will not optimally prime you to race.

The maintenance of your routine is one of the reasons you should avoid a sharp taper, especially in the two to three weeks leading up to the race. Taking extra rest days to reduce your mileage can lead to physical and mental staleness and increase race day nerves. Including intense workouts during your taper will maintain routine, boost your confidence, and sharpen your fitness just enough for peaking. The Hansons plans, for example, keep you running the same strength and tempo workouts you have been doing the entire training cycle up until ten days out from the race. Other coaches include workouts at race pace the week of the race, in order to keep your legs from feeling stale and to reinforce what goal pace feels like.

Unless you are experiencing soreness or at the brink of injury, you should avoid taking unnecessary rest days during the taper period. Instead of resting more, ensure that you are emphasizing recovery by eating well, hydrating, sleeping enough, managing stress, and foam rolling. 

How much should you reduce your mileage? In part, it depends upon your goals, your training plan, and your personal preference. After your peak week of mileage, the Hansons Advanced Marathon schedule tapers mileage by 89% for three week outs, 87% for two weeks out, and then 41% the week of (not including the marathon – 82% if you do count the race). In this article from Runners Connect, Gaudette recommends running 85-90% of your peak mileage three weeks before the race, 70-75% two weeks out, and 50% the week of the race (not counting the race). McMillan advises that you taper by reducing the time spent running: in addition to shortening your long run, cut 10-20 minutes off of each run 2 weeks before, and reduce each run the week preceding the race by 20-30 minutes.

Portland Marathon Training Week 15

This week was my peak week of marathon training! I was supposed to run 63 miles, but I ended up running 60 miles. I ran an overall strong week and my highest mileage of this training cycle, so I’m happy with the mileage. I did not do a lot of strength training this week, because, to be honest, 60 miles is a lot.

Charlie runs

Monday: 7 miles easy on the treadmill, 0.5-2% incline, 9:12/mile. 

Tuesday: 10 miles: 2 mile warm-up, 3 x 2 miles at half marathon effort [(7:33, 7:35), (7:31, 7:31), (7:30, 7:27)] with 1/2 mile recovery jog between each, 1 mile cool down. 

Wednesday: AM: 7 miles easy on the treadmill, 1-3% incline, 9:18/mile. PM: 15 minutes of bodyweight strength training.

Thursday: AM: 13 miles: 2 mile warm up, 10 miles at goal marathon pace (7:55/mile average), 1 mile cool down. PM: 15 minutes of Pilates plus some foam rolling.

Friday: 7 miles recovery (2 with Charlie), 9:45/mile, followed by foam rolling and 15 minutes bodyweight strength training.

Saturday: 16 miles long run, 8:27/mile. I started at an easy effort (8:40s) for the first few miles, then settled in at a comfortable pace (8:20s), and finished slightly faster (8:00-8:15). This run went really well, despite the cumulative fatigue, and my fueling strategy went really well. 

Now to begin a gradual taper! 

Questions of the Day:
How do you taper before a race? 
Do you get the taper crazies?
How was your week in training? Did anyone race?


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30 Responses

  1. I am loving all the easy miles in here, they make SUCH a big difference during marathon training, and it is so great you have learned so much about training correctly these last few months! Keep up the good work my friend, we know you will be ready on time!

  2. This is right where I am this week–ran my final 20 (21 actually) on Sat. and now looking forward to a gradual decrease. I do feel pretty beat up, so I’m going to stay very on top of how my legs are feeling each day. Enjoy your taper!

  3. I don’t get the taper crazies, but I don’t taper either (I pretty much just race 5K/10K with the occasional half thrown in there). But, before a half marathon or a race where I want to PR, I do try to take it a little easier that week and cut my morning runs by a mile or two just to keep my legs from feeling “heavy” on race day. Adding some strides helps too.

    You had a great week of training and I know you’re glad you have the 60 mile week behind you and can hone in on the very marathon specific stuff for awhile!

  4. Congrats on making it to taper! Taper is my favorite part of marathon training. I like hitting that point where you know that everything is in the bank now and it’s time to just enjoy all the hard work you’ve put in (well, and maintain your fitness, of course). I do better in races when I’m well-rested, so I tend to err a little more on the side of more taper than less. I do a 3 week taper with my last hard workout about 10 days before the race and then it’s all easy/moderate running after that. In each week of taper I end up running about 2-5 miles less than what I had on the schedule. It works for me!

    When I’m doing a shorter race, I actually like to do a treadmill speed workout 2-3 days before the race. Nothing too hard, but something like 6×400 that will wake up my legs and put a little pep in my step without wearing me out too much.

    1. That’s so good that you’ve found what works for you! My taper will be similar, with the last workout ten days out, but not as much step down in mileage I think. I like to add short workouts the week of a half also – it feels good to get a bit of speed!

  5. Really interesting post. I focus on decreasing milage slowly about 3 weeks out, but still keep it mid 30s/low 40s. About one week out I run my last 10 miler, and then still run multiple days in a row, but low milage (4-5 miles) and then rest two days (three days out) and then do a short 3-4 mile shakeout the day before the marathon. I definitely get the crazies when I start cutting back in milage, but I know it’s for the best. YAY for taper… your body will definitely love it 🙂

  6. What an amazing week! 60 miles is a lot, I don’t think I’ll ever run that many miles in one week since my body starts rebelling in the low 50s. I hear you on the strength training, the amount of running just doesn’t leave room for much else. And yes I definitely turn into even more of a lunatic while tapering 😉

  7. Great Job! I was so happy when I hit that last long run of the Hanson’s plan. I am in the last week for the Hanson’s program with my race this Saturday. I am having the nerves hit me right now so I’m trying to just tell myself to trust this training. It is different having such a short taper vs the typical 3 week taper – I am looking forward to Sunday when it is all done with lol

  8. Taper is a bad word around these parts. Every single time I taper, without fail, my week is stressful, full of really crappy runs (slow, heavy legs) and all of these mysterious ailments show up. I get sick, my old hamstring injury comes back, my ankle aches, it goes on and on. But that’s just the nature of the taper! I’m used to it by now. I raced a marathon yesterday and got a PR! Super pumped about that. And I won that bobble head trophy which is just the best thing ever. Nice week last week Laura! You’re doing so well!!!

    1. Thank you so much! I’ve gotten weird ailments during taper also – my wonky ankle only aches during taper! Bodies are weird. Congrats again on your amazing PR and that awesome trophy!

  9. thanks for the info! I am trying to figure out how to best taper right now. I did hansons marathon method a few years ago and they only had like a 10 day taper which I did like. But I might do 2 weeks this time. So I am 4 weeks out from my race…so should this week be my peak weak? I was gonna make next week (3 weeks out) my peak week…hmmmm

    1. If Hansons taper worked well for you, a peak week next week like you’re thinking would probably work well for you. Tapers are so tricky – they always make me a little nervous and it can be so tempting to squeeze in one more long run!

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