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The term tapering is crucial in endurance sports in the phase before the competition.

Put simply, tapering has the goal of ensuring that the body can start the big competition fully rested through optimal recovery. Tapering is especially important for long endurance events such as marathons, middle distance triathlons and long distance triathlons.

Tapering in running, marathons and triathlons

Tapering is the phase in which the distances and the intensities are strongly reduced, in order to regenerate the body of the preceding loads completely. Tapering usually occurs before an important competition (season peak). How long the process of tapering takes depends on many factors, such as the competition distance, the athlete's performance level and also the current fitness level or pre-fatigue from the loads of the previous weeks.

How long before the marathon not to run?

The specific training phase for the marathon begins 12 - 16 weeks before the competition date. About two to three weeks before the marathon (depending on the level of performance or fitness), the amount of training and also the intensity is gradually reduced, which also begins the process of tapering.

Tapering should not be started too early, because then the long training break or the long reduced training volume increases the risk that some of the current form is lost and the performance level falls below the current level (keyword: supercompensation).

Why you should not save too much on speed!

"Intensive tapering" is mainly done in the last week before the marathon. In this week, there is usually a rest day followed by a day of relaxed running training. On one day, running training with a few kilometers at marathon pace is also quite sensible or even recommended. This way, the body does not lose the feeling of the "planned marathon pace" and you still do not expose yourself to great stress if it is actually only a few kilometers. In the tapering phase it is much more important to drastically reduce the volume and not the running pace.

Why is tapering important before the marathon?

There are many reasons to tapering before important races:

  • Increasing aerobic enzymes and thus improving endurance performance.
  • Micro-injuries in the muscle tissue are repaired
  • Consequently, an improvement in running economy (less effort required for the same running pace) and thus a longer resistance to fatigue
  • Filling of glycogen stores and thus longer energy reserves for the marathon
  • Mental recovery

Depending on your performance level, targeted tapering can improve race day performance by up to 5 percent.

Tapering: Nutrition is also important

Part of the tapering process is, of course, nutrition. Of course, we want to start the marathon with fully filled energy stores. That's why a full and balanced diet is essential during the tapering phase. The carbohydrate stores should be fully filled in the last days before the competition. Which method is most efficient for this, one could write a whole running book about it.

Also an important element is recovery and regeneration away from the sport. This means that we should give our body enough sleep and adjust our sleep rhythm to get up at least three hours (but better four hours) before the start time of the marathon in the last two weeks before the marathon. So if the start of the marathon is at 9 a.m., it makes sense for the alarm clock to ring at 6 a.m. at the latest (sleeping in once a week is still allowed, of course).

The day before the race

What you want to do the day before the big race depends on the individual. A short, easy run in the regenerative range has proven itself. After that, you can do a couple of hill runs, but not too intense (the highest pace a touch above the marathon pace). However, there are also runners who do not run at all the day before the marathon or go for a walk instead. In any case, you should not put your body under stress, neither physically nor mentally.

Tapering - Example: The last 3 weeks before the marathon

The following training plan describes the last 3 weeks of a runner who wants to run the marathon in under 3 hours (= 4:15 minutes per kilometer).

  • Exactly two weeks before the marathon a longer endurance run is completed, but not too long (maximum 30 kilometers)
  • An intensive interval training takes place in the 3rd and 2nd week before the marathon, but no longer in the last week
  • In the second week before the marathon, a "medium-long" endurance run can be included (in this case 25 kilometers with 30 seconds per kilometer above the marathon pace).
  • In the last week, exclusively short and easy runs or rest days, with the exception of interval training, which should not be too demanding with 2 x 4 kilometers at marathon pace.
  • The day before the race, depending on your mood, a few kilometers of run-in and a couple of easy hill runs.

More training:

3rd week before the marathon:

Monday GA1 10 km in 5:05
Tuesday -
Wednesday IV Pyramid
1 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 1 km
Break: 3 - 5 min
Tempo IV: 1 km in 3:45
2 km in 3:50
3 km in 3:55
Thursday GA1 15 km in 5:00
Friday Strength 60 min
Saturday GA1 12 km in 5:00
Sunday GA2 20 km in 4:35
6 km in 4:15
2 km in 4:10

2nd week before the marathon:

Monday GA1 10 km in 5:00
Tuesday IV 8 x 1 km in 3:50
Break 2 min
Wednesday Strength 60 min
Thursday GA1-2 25 km in 4:45
Friday GA1 10 km in 5:00
Saturday -
Sunday GA1-2 12 km in 5:00
3 km in 4:15

Last week before the marathon:

Monday GA1 10 km in 5:00
Strength 45 min
Tuesday IV 2 x 4 km in 4:15
Break 1 km
Wednesday -
Thursday GA1 8 km in 5:15
Friday -
Saturday GA0 max. 5 km
Sunday Marathon 42,2 km in 4:15


More marathon:

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