7 Tips for Tapering Before Your First Marathon

Time to choose sleep over running, folks.

The few weeks of tapering before a marathon are vital and a chance for your body to prepare itself to run 26.2 miles on race day. Photograph via Shutterstock.

Though the status of the big fall marathons is currently up in the air (thanks, shutdown!), tapering is on the calendar for runners beginning this week. But after logging miles and miles for the past few months, the idea of cutting back weeks before the big day can seem daunting, if not foolish.

Well, here’s a message from experienced marathon runners: Your body needs it. Tapering is vital, especially if it is your first marathon. We turned to the pros—including running coaches and fitness bloggers—for tips on how to handle tapering and prepare for race day.

1) Trust yourself.
First things first: Trust all the training you’ve put your body through over the past few months—the 5 AM wakeup calls, the long training runs every Saturday, the blisters—says PJ Murphy of Run Yoga Thrive. “Especially during the taper, self-doubt can creep in and invade even the most-prepared runners,” says Run Farther & Faster’s Julie Sapper. “When that happens, look at your training plan and remember all the miles you’ve logged in all kinds of weather conditions [ . . . ] in a relatively short period of time.”

2) Reduce mileage but not intensity.
The miles you log each week should be reduced three weeks before race day. However, just because you’re running less doesn’t mean you should turn into a couch potato. Sapper and her Run Farther & Faster cofounder, Lisa Reichmann, recommend the following schedule: 1) Three weeks before, reduce weekly mileage by 25 percent; 2) two weeks before, reduce mileage by 40 percent; and 3) one week before, reduce mileage by 60 percent.

3) Focus on your upper body.
Did you skimp on strength-training? Now’s the time to incorporate upper-body and core workouts “to maintain strength and keep yourself from going crazy from reduced mileage,” offers District Sweats blogger Ellen. Just be sure to avoid anything too intense you haven’t tried before. Now’s not the time to start Olympic weight-lifting.

4) Carbo-load a week before.
By now, you’ve probably noticed that your appetite has soared. That won’t change while tapering. However, it’s vital to begin fueling your body properly before the actual race—and not just the night before. Instead of eating huge bowls of pasta, Sapper and Reichmann recommend eating quality high-carb mini meals paired with vegetables, fruit, and protein beginning the week before the race. Try oatmeal, bananas, rice, and sweet potatoes.

5) Avoid alcohol.
No, pints of beer don’t count as quality carbs. “Embrace water during your taper, and know that the libations will taste that much better with a medal around your neck!” says Reichmann.

6) Visualize your race.
Take some time over the next few weeks to really study the course map. Figure out where you’ll need a water break and where you’ll need your family and friends to cheer you on. Finally, reestablish your goals for that day, whether you just want to cross the finish line or you want to break the four-hour mark.

7) Enjoy your sleep.
Marathon runners like Mike Wardian will tell you that getting enough sleep works wonders. Use the time you would be logging those long miles for extra hours in bed. Add Reichmann and Sapper, “Don’t stress if pre-marathon jitters affect your sleep the night before the big race.” In fact, research shows that a good performance relies on a good night’s rest two nights before the race, not the night before.