Master the Taper: Strategies for Peak Marathon Performance

Master the Taper: Strategies for Peak Marathon Performance


As marathon day approaches for the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon, seasoned runners understand the importance of tapering – a strategic reduction in training intensity and volume to allow the body to recover fully and reach peak performance on race day.  Studies have shown that a proper taper “improved run performance by 3% compared to control groups”1 (Houmard, et al.)  Tapering is a delicate balance between maintaining fitness and ensuring optimal rest.  Keep in mind this process is very individual and at Quest Health and Performance we dial this process in based on our individual athletes’ profiles.  Today, we will speak generally about effective tapering strategies that can help runners fine-tune their preparation for a marathon and maximize their chances of crossing the finish line with their best performance.



A deeper dive:  

Tapering is not just about taking it easy in the days leading up to the marathon; it involves a systematic reduction in training load while maintaining intensity. The primary goals of tapering are to alleviate accumulated fatigue, repair muscle damage, and restore glycogen stores while maintaining peak fitness. Here are key strategies to achieve these goals:


  • Duration of Taper:  The ideal taper duration can vary based on individual preferences and training plans, but a common recommendation is the longer the race, the longer the taper.  A two to three-week taper for a marathon is a good starting point. This allows the body to recover without losing the cardiovascular fitness gained during the training cycle.


  • Mileage Reduction:  Gradually decrease weekly mileage during the taper, with the most significant reduction occurring in the final week. Aim for a 20-30% reduction in overall mileage, focusing on cutting back on long runs while maintaining some intensity through shorter, faster-paced workouts.


  • Intensity Maintenance:  While overall mileage decreases, maintain some intensity to keep the neuromuscular system engaged. Incorporate short, fast intervals or strides during the taper to sharpen your speed without inducing significant fatigue.


  • Nutritional Focus:  Pay close attention to nutrition during the taper phase. This may be time to slightly increase carbohydrate, water, and electrolyte intake while maintaining a well-balanced diet with an adequate mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats to optimize glycogen stores and support muscle repair.  Speak to a dietician for advice specific to your needs. 


  • Hydration and Sleep:  Prioritize hydration and quality sleep during the taper. Proper rest is crucial for the body to recover and adapt to the training stimulus. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night and stay well-hydrated to ensure optimal performance on race day.


  • Mental Preparation:  Use the taper period for mental preparation and visualization. Imagine yourself completing the marathon successfully, focusing on positive thoughts and race-day scenarios. This mental rehearsal can boost confidence and reduce anxiety.  Have issues with this aspect of racing?  Speak with our Mindset Coach, Phil Tucker, to help you with your mental prep!


  • Fine-Tuning Race Strategy:  Review and finalize your race-day strategy during the taper (this is an area where our coaches may come in handy ;). Identify pacing goals, nutrition plans, and hydration strategies. Having a well-thought-out plan can help you stay focused and confident during the marathon.


Tapering is a critical component of marathon training that requires careful planning and execution. Often times the taper can be difficult to navigate, even for experienced athletes.  Stress accumulates, aches and pains pop up, and proper planning can be challenging.  By incorporating these tapering strategies into your preparation, you can optimize your chances of reaching peak performance on marathon day. Remember, the key is finding the right balance between rest and maintaining the fitness level you’ve worked hard to achieve. Our physical therapists, endurance coaches, and mindset experts at Quest Health and Performance can be great resources for you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us!  Trust your training, embrace the taper, and set yourself up for a successful marathon experience. Good luck!




  1. Houmard JA, Scott BK, Justice CL, Chenier TC. The effects of taper on performance in distance runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1994 May;26(5):624-31. PMID: 8007812.
Dr. Matt Fansler, PT, DPT, OCS
We help endurance athletes (from beginners to pros) train and cross the finish line faster and injury-free!


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