How does tapering affect you?

With just a week to go before the marathon,  I’ve been re-reading the tapering sections in my favorite training books and resonating with the common complaints.  Doubts? Check. Catching a cold? Check. Feeling new aches and twinges? Check.

Most training plans agree that it is best to cut your training plan by 25-50% in the final three weeks of marathon training.  RW Big Book of Marathon and Half Marathon Training recommends keeping the intensity high, by holding onto a harder day so that your muscles can recover but you’re not losing any fitness.  They sited a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology that confirms the effectiveness of the 3 week taper.

Advanced Marathoning also supported the idea of substantially reducing mileage but maintaining some intensity.  They specified cut backs of 20% in the first week of taper, 40% the second, and 60% in the final days leading up to the marathon.

For my first marathon, I tapered but ran almost all easy miles.  I’m curious to see if I’ll notice a difference. I threw 30 minutes of tempo into Tuesday’s run, and will run a few marathon-paced miles next Tuesday.  I’m been adding marathon-paced miles to my long runs as well.  Most of my other runs will be easy.

With all the cutbacks, it is very normal to experience the taper crazies!


Here are some of the most common experiences during the two to three week taper period:

  •  Doubting yourself: The phsychological effect of backing off training often leads to a loss of confidence
  • Feeling sluggish, bloated and weight gain: Your body is storing more water and carbohydrates and can leave you feeling bloated and sluggish with extra water weight.
  • Catching a cold: Endurance athletes are at an increased risk for respirator infections.
  • Desire to add more miles than your training plan calls for
  • Phantom (or real!) aches and pains: It’s unclear why, but many runners feel new aches during the taper, possibly as a combination of getting less endorphins, blood and oxygen to the muscles, lungs and brain.

By far the greatest symptom I’ve experienced is the first one: doubt! A little vulnerability on twitter last week opened up a flood of responses…

I’m happy to report that I’ve been building confidence this week and am feeling more ready than at the time I tweeted this.  I also liked Amby Burfoot’s advice from the RW Big Book of Marathon Training:

If there’s a more important part of your training program than the pre-race taper, I can’t imagine what it might be.  Without the right taper, all of your hard-earned fitness can go down the drain faster than spoiled milk.  We want to train, and then we want to see our training pay off with a strong race effort.



Have you experienced the taper crazies? Which of the effects are most difficult for you?


99 thoughts on “How does tapering affect you?

  1. I think the weirdest part about tapering, even for a week (which is all I’ve done since I’ve only run half-marathons so far), is that you build up to working so hard and then much more quickly drop down to lower mileage and less work. It just feels like such a sudden switch to me! I always feel myself going a bit stir crazy.

    Good luck on the big 26.2!!! You’ll do wonderfully, I’m sure, and I can’t wait to read the recap of your success!!
    Jen @ Jens Best Life recently posted..Washington: Mountain SnapshotsMy Profile

  2. I have a funny feeling that your training this cycle is WAY better than before. I can’t wait to see you have your moment to shine!

    About carbo loading..I agree about feeling bloated. A lot of times people see carbs as just pasta or pizza (Fiber!), but they are in simple sugar too! Enjoy some candy 🙂

    I am usually ready to taper- training hard exhausts me. BUT I wish I could live in a bubble and keep the germs away!
    Raina recently posted..A Build Up and a Virtual "race"My Profile

  3. I’ve never actually had to deal with the taper crazies but I can just imagine the mental game that goes on inside your head! You’ve logged the miles and put in intense workouts – you’re ready! Go conquer that beast of 26.2 miles!!

    BTW – love the pic of L! 😉
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..SnowshoeingMy Profile

  4. Yep, you’re a totally normal, abnormal runner! ; )

    I’m glad you’re getting the self-doubt under control. That makes such a difference–believe in your training and in your past race results leading up to this one.

    I always feel like I am coming down with an injury or cold when I taper! It is a funny effect, isn’t it?
    misszippy recently posted..Do you associate or dissociate?My Profile

  5. My marathon is 9 days away, and I have a cold, lol. I guess your source was right! Of course, it could be from working in an elementary school with special ed kids that haven’t quite mastered the workings of a tissue! You will be great!!
    kim prytherch recently posted..My One Year Blogiversary!My Profile

  6. Back when I ran marathons, tapering was always an interesting time period. It was most challenging for me, mentally. I kept thinking I should be running to keep preparing–when I know I needed to let my body recover to be ready for the big day. It always worked out in the end, but it was definitely a strange feeling.

    Good luck to you! You’re going to have an AMAZING time! You are prepared and strong. Stay confident!! 🙂
    Michelle @ Eat Move Balance recently posted..Green SmoothiesMy Profile

  7. I always get taper crazies. This time I am fending them off by keeping incredibly busy. I may as well be preparing for a baby the way I am cleaning my house. 🙂 Your miles are in, you will do amazing. Believe in yourself, that is what I keep repeating to myself.

  8. Yes! I tend to feel like I can get sick easier! Especially at work. I,also,feel bloaty. I’m going to do like you no run some tempo in my long run tomorrow…you will do awesome! Which one are you running
    Kat recently posted..NYE was RAD!My Profile

  9. I’ve never trained for a full so I imagine the longer taper period would be really touchy for me. I definitely got antsy to add on more miles than I should, felt like I was a slacker for not working out more. Most definitely go through the doubts as well as annoyance at feeling bloated and fluffy. Just a few more days though. So excited for you.
    Heather (Where’s the Beach) recently posted..More Veggies and Blood Clot TalkMy Profile

  10. I think I have written this same post before every marathon I have run! This is all so normal Laura, you will do great. Remember you have done the work, now is the time to let your body rest up so it is at it’s best to perform on race day 🙂
    Jen recently posted..Running as a momMy Profile

  11. I think you’re wise to throw in the Tempo, although everyone is different, I do better with an intensity work thrown into my taper week. It’s hard to say but I have a feeling our bodies are similar. I am tapering this week too and even though this is my 5th marathon, I still am having doubts. I am treating this one just like a training run, with a big giant running group. Let’s sweep away our apprehensions and go crush our races!!! xoxo
    Lisa @ RunWiki recently posted..Looking Back and Looking Forward… The Art of TransitionMy Profile

  12. That picture of L is too cute! I had SUCH a hard time with my marathon taper (we maintained intensity right up until Tuesday or Wednesday I think before backing off to easy miles). I think doubt was also my biggest problem, but I experienced ALL of those symptoms, including an injury that wouldn’t let me run a few days before that magically disappeared on race day.

    You’ll do great! Only one more week!
    Amy recently posted..2012My Profile

  13. Doubt is always a big one for me too – I just try to remind myself it’s normal and everything that could be done, is already done. I agree with Advanced Marathoning 100% (love that book) and include intensity in my training assuming everything else is on track.

    You’re almost there!
    Heather @ Better With Veggies recently posted..A Different Kind of ResolutionMy Profile

  14. You’ll OWN that 26.2, girl!!! 26.2 is scheduled for this year, but so far my races have maxed at 13.1 and I have tapered before. I think that BECAUSE of the water weight from the carbo-load, I doubted my ability even more. Something about being bloated and uncomfortable brought back ‘fat girl’ ghosts maybe? I’m glad to know that doubt and having to work the willpower against wanting to do more is an actual symptom and something many others fight with! It’s comforting!
    Rachel B @ Busy Mama Fitness recently posted..Body ImageMy Profile

  15. I think you’ll do great, so no worries there. I’ve done a lot of marathons and I have changed my view on tapering over the years. Most of us just do not train at a high enough level to truly need a taper. I beleive in decreasing the long runs, but I think keeping your midweek runs is just fine if it helps you mentally. The idea of a 3 week taper is really for a high volume, high intensity athlete and most of us recreational folks aren’t doing that. BUT, if you mentally need the taper then by all means do it. I just get too crazy if I cut things down too much. Just my opinion though….
    Clea recently posted..The anti resolution resolutions…My Profile

  16. Thank you for a very reassuring post! I guess I have the taper crazies too. As promised, you can send this video to your loved ones and support system.

    I have no doubt you will achieve and exceed your goals for the marathon. I agree that this has been a very fun training cycle. I am looking forward to the race!

  17. You will do so amazing! So excited for you!
    I really hate the taper period. I have problems with all of those things but often get the opposite of doubt- can start to feel overly-confident, which just leads me to feeling upset when I don’t do as awesome as I think I will :).
    I swear I always get a cold during a marathon taper, something always hurts and I convince myself that running a 10 mile tempo 2 days before the race will only make me stronger ;).

    • Oh, too funny about that ten mile taper. 🙂 I’m doing okay with the cut back part, but wish I didn’t have to wait another whole week. It’s starting to drag on now… thanks for the encouragement!
      Laura recently posted..How does tapering affect you?My Profile

  18. All those aches and pains and things you feel are your body healing in preparation of the big event. I love the taper and look forward to reduced mileage and rest. For me the best indicator of a good race will be sufficient rest for the legs. Sure you feel like a bloated blob and legs feel like they weigh a ton but on race day, it all comes together (if you taper). They say nothing you do in training during the last two weeks can “benefit” your race but it can “hurt” your race. It takes 3 weeks for training to take effect so clearly that makes some sense. Trust your training and enjoy the race.
    Robin recently posted..My Year in RunningMy Profile

  19. Laura! Believe in your training and believe in yourself. You are ready!! Enjoy this time and the race. Race day is your reward for all the hard work of training. Don’t let your mind get in the way of what your body is ready to do. 🙂

  20. Oh man did I ever feel the aches and pains before my first marathon last month – it was crazy and really did me in psychologically!! But despite your unusual training methods I really think you’ve done an amazing job and lots of hard work! Good luck and hopefully I’ll get a chance to meet you! I’ll be in town starting Friday night since I’m doing the 5K on Saturday as well!
    Lauren @ The Unlikely Runners recently posted..The One Where I’ve Been ThinkingMy Profile

    • I had a minor injury in the taper my first marathon cycle, too… and didn’t mind the rest. I think the doubt is worse this time since I have a time goal in mind, where with my first I knew I’d just be happy to survive and finish!
      Laura recently posted..How does tapering affect you?My Profile

  21. I had all of that before CIM! The cold is the worst part to me–fortunately mine didn’t really get me until after the race, though I kind of knew it was coming. My coach actually told me he believes maintaining some intensity also helps the immune system–so hit those tempo runs and don’t worry. I think you’re going to really surprise yourself with how well you do.
    Terzah recently posted..Avoiding the TreadmillMy Profile

  22. Great informative post! And despite all the taper crazies you have a great approach and sounds like you are in a good place – all things considered (I mean running less and eating more pre-race is always going to be a bit of a mental blah!)

    GOOD LUCK. TRUST in your training! :=)
    Jenelle @ MummyLovesToRun recently posted..14 weeks – Canberra MarathonMy Profile

  23. I hate that you’re feeling the crazies!!! I would often give myself little daily affirmations when that self doubt devil started sneaking into my thoughts. I also spent some time in quiet yoga poses visualizing positive things about my upcoming race. You’re doing great!!

  24. I always go through taper crazies! They are the worst, I literally don’t know what to do with myself.

    I have switched to cutting more miles but keeping up with Marathon Goal Pace for a half and it worked out great, haven’t tested it on a marathon yet.
    Liana@RunToMunch recently posted..Free Tapas in GranadaMy Profile

  25. I was given great advice after a 9 year gap between my first and second marathons. Trust your training. You will do fantastic!

  26. I’m trying to decide if I should even taper.
    Since I just returned for running I have only had 4-5 weeks to get ready for this half marathon. Now I need to decided do I train the last week in to get an extra week of running in after so many months off, or do I hope 5 weeks was enough and taper.
    I hate taper!
    Abby @ BackAtSquareZero recently posted..5 by the 5th – Race 1 RecapMy Profile

  27. Ah, yes, taper crazies. Been there. Experienced all of these things too. So exciting…you’ve got this for sure! And great look to your blog. I so need to rework my blog. and adding ads on it might be nice….how does all that work? Maybe I’ll PM you. Good luck!

  28. You will do great girl!!! With the combo of your running, spinning and strength your body is fully ready just focus on the positives and not the negatives 🙂
    Go Get Em Tiger!! Grrrr!!!

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  31. It’s funny – I was just telling some friends this morning that I feel more achy this week during the taper and rest than I ever did during my 48 mile week. Glad I’m not alone!
    Mandy recently posted..Vacation SmationMy Profile

  32. You’ve got this. I know that we all experience taper madness in some way shape or form. Even for me, low mileage weeks feel weird, so add that on top of an upcoming marathon and the nerves that come with that, and you have all kinds of doubts going on! But you have put the work in and you will get the results from it!
    Travel Spot recently posted..Currently: JanuaryMy Profile

  33. Thanks for this post Laura. While I’m not at marathon level yet, it gives me an idea of what to expect…preparing me for it. With smaller races like a 5k or 10k, I’ve never tapered. But now that I’m moving into a half marathon area this type of info helps me! I’m noting those books you mentioned to get started on learning more. Any others you think I could benefit from? 🙂
    Maria @ Lil Mys Ninja recently posted..Motivation Mondays: Stay Motivated with Your RunningMy Profile

  34. I’ve been trying to reassure myself about the taper I have 13 days until my first marathon and I’m already a bit anxious, I just want to RUN it already!
    I’ve run a ton of half’s and never really tapered more than take one or two days off from running right before so I’m beginning to get the “I am going to forget how to run” jitters. Hence the past 3 days I have done each run faster than I should…oops?

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  36. Fantastic Laura! I can never work out what the ‘right’ answer is. I figure it’s best if we try a few things, and tune in to see what our bodies like best. Doubt? I haven’t heard anyone say they don’t doubt their ability to do it in those final weeks.

    Thanks for being so honest.
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