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The Art of Tapering Training for a Half Marathon

The Art of Tapering Training for a Half Marathon

Everyone has their own ideas about how to effectively approach endurance training before a half marathon. There are those that will train hardcore right up until the event and then, on the other hand, there are the people that will take a few days completely off right before the big race

While you may be set in your ways, there are several reasons why you should at least consider tapering your training before your next half marathon. It may just surprise you and allow you to set your all-time personal best. I have personally worked with numerous runners and convinced them to give tapering a try for half marathons. In the end, I’d say 80 percent of them have stuck with the program for years after. 

Approach Tapering Smartly for a Half Marathon

Tapering is almost half science and half art. I say this because most will have to slightly tweak the tapering schedule here and there to individualize it to their routine. It is all about feeling comfortable with your workouts before the 13.1-mile race and getting just the right amount of time off to heal. 

Tapering essentially means that the person is backing off their normal training schedule about two to three weeks before the half marathon. And while you want to make sure that you are properly healed and rested for the race, you also don’t want to be at the starting line out of shape. There is a fine line between getting much-needed rest and taking a complete vacation that will leave you out of breath an hour into the half marathon. Here are a few key tips on how to approach tapering smartly exclusively for a half marathon.

1. Calculate the Distance During Your Training

A half marathon is 13.1 miles in length. Three weeks out from the race, you may keep on running that exact distance in an effort to prepare and figure out what time you are clocking in at. All runners want to be able to figure out where their current training time will rank them before the half marathon is to actually happen. 

We may all say we are just happy to finish in the top half, but if you are a competitive runner, you know better than that. An average time for a half marathon is about two hours and if you want to finish near the front, it will probably be closer to the hour and a half mark. With proper tapering, you may just be able to achieve this. 

But two weeks out from the day of the race, you should start reducing the total mileage you are running. For instance, if you run 40 miles a week, you will want to cut back on this by about 25 percent. This may mean running 7.5 miles during your training day instead of 10 miles or you can approach it differently and just train three days a week instead of four. 

If you believe you will have a tough time reducing your workouts two weeks out, one week out may be even mentally tougher. As you give your body a chance to fully heal from those minor aches and pains, while you are one week out, you should reduce your mileage even further and only run half as many miles as you usually do during a normal week

Starting Line Excitement Canaan Valley Half Marathon
Starting Line Excitement at the Inaugural Canaan Valley Half Marathon

2. Intensity Is Key

Two weeks out from the half marathon, you are going to be cutting back on the mileage as stated above, but you don’t want to reduce your intensity during your runs. Keep your intensity normal during this tapering period as you will be running fewer miles. Don’t change the speed you are running during week two and just focus on proper form with less miles. 


However, one week out from the half marathon, reduce your intensity significantly. In fact, if you want to do most of your training this last week at half speed, then go for it. 


Don’t let doubt creep into your psyche during this tapering period for the half marathon. You are letting your body heal so you can push it as far as you can during the actual race. Your body won’t forget how to run a half marathon in 14 days. For example, in strength training, you don’t always try to set maximum lifts during every workout. If you did, you would be injured and on the shelf constantly. Sometimes you have to put your ego aside and train smartly instead of pushing it to the max at all times. 

3. Last Workout Before the Half Marathon

There are those runners that want to do their last bit of training the day before the half marathon. They may run two to three miles just to get some of the jitters out of the way. 


Still, other runners will conclude their last workout four or five days before the big day so they get the optimal time to heal the last of the little aches and pains. 


Again, this is something that you will have to look at for yourself. In any case, take it easy during these runs as you will want to save it all for the half marathon. Those 13.1 miles may not seem like much for some of you that run whole marathons, but you will run it a lot better with healed shins and feet without blisters. 

Is Tapering for a Half Marathon Really Going to Be Worth It?

I totally understand your apprehension about changing your training routine. Especially if you feel you can run a half marathon pretty easily on your worst day. But all I ask is that you give it a try. Your cardio is not going to change drastically in two weeks of tapering and with your body feeling much better by the time the half marathon arrives, you may have a little extra pep in your step!

Picture of Ryan Crawley

Ryan Crawley

Ryan Crawley is a journalist, educator, and health and fitness fanatic that currently makes his home in Illinois. With a Masters in Reading and Literacy and award-winning personal training results with his fitness clients, he is still reminded daily that he is not a doctor like his wife Katie. Ryan enjoys spending time with his dogs Flair and Smoosh and kitten Charlotte. In his free moments, he likes to write books for children that will hopefully be on shelves in the near future.

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