How To Taper For A Half Marathon – The Secret To A Fast Time

Updated: June 21, 2024

June 21, 2024 in Training guides

In this article, we will reveal what a taper is and how it applies to your half marathon. If you do it correctly, it could mean running your best race. This can be applied to tapering for a half marathon and other distance events such as the 10k or marathon.

What Is A Taper?

A taper does not always mean a fancy haircut. In this sense, a taper is a reduction in training load before an event or race day when you want to peak your performance level.

It has not only physical but mental benefits. While the taper, like training, needs to be tailored to the individual, as an elite distance runner, I have given my best tips on how to succeed in planning your taper. If you are about to run one of your first races, the guide below will provide you with something to work from.

Reasons You Need To Know How To Taper For A Half Marathon

It is important to know how to taper for a race day. Getting it right can result in a much better overall experience. Remember, a taper is not just for experienced half-marathon runners.

A good taper can be the difference between a mediocre half-marathon and a successful performance.

  • You will feel recovered both mentally and physically
  • You will allow time to build proper glycogen stores
  • You have more time for things like preparing the race kit
  • It will make race pace feel easier
  • You will not feel stale and out of shape

Read on for some great tips for your half-marathon plan. The overall idea of a taper is to allow your body to recover from the training you have completed.

How To Taper For A Half Marathon

The half marathon taper plan and steps below have been put together by myself, who has run 1 hour and 9 minutes for the half marathon and won 6 half marathons.

I have also experimented with different ways of completing a taper and have found this to work well for me. However, I have adapted the system so you can tailor it to your training level.

Step 1 - Two Weeks Before Race Day

You should start the taper period approximately two weeks before race day. Your last significant long run should not be any closer than two weeks before race day, for example. Focus on reducing distance, but plan your final two weeks up to race day.

It may look like something like the below:

Week 1 and 2 of the taper.....

How to Taper for a Half Marathon - 1st week
How to Taper for a Half Marathon - 2nd Week

Step 2 - Reduce The Volume

Reducing the overall volume (overall mileage) is dependent on your level and total weekly mileage. But a reduction of about 50% may be suitable in the week before.

The goal of the taper is not only to feel recovered but at your best, so by continuing some training and some effort at the same intensity as you have been doing your workouts (this may be race pace), you are more likely to feel sharp in the race than if you just did nothing.

Step 3 - Don't Try Anything New In Training

It's important not to try an entirely new type of training during a race taper. For example, if you have not run fast 200-metre reps, don't try it now because you feel fresh; save it for a future training block.

If you want to do an interval session, say on the Tuesday before race day on Sunday, it is fine to be around race pace or slightly under; however, decrease the volume by around 50%.

For example, if your normal Tuesday session was 6 x 5 minutes, then aim for 3 x 5 minutes at race pace. This is a good way of getting you into pace and feeling good.

Step 4  - Use The Extra Time Available Wisely

With reduced training, you will have more time to prepare things such as your race kit and nutrition. You don't want to leave much for race morning. So make sure you have your kit prepared and ready to go.

Remember, the weather can quickly change, so be prepared for variable conditions and wear a waterproof jacket. I have been caught out before, and not having a jacket to warm up in when it's raining is not good.

Step 5 - Visualize your race

In the week before race day, try to visualize different parts of it, from feeling the nerves and excitement to the crowds and other runners around you.

Imagine ticking off the miles at your goal pace. The visualization aspect can really help you get into the right mindset for race day.

Step 6 - Two Days Before Your Half Marathon

Two days before the race, I like to have a complete day off. You may want to go for a light walk or stroll, but I like to have a complete day off from running.

Again, this is up to personal preference, but this has worked for me.

Step 7 - The Day Before The Half Marathon

The day before a light jog of around 15 to 20 minutes, some running drills and strides or short intervals of say 1 minute at race pace but no faster.

I like to do this to get my body and mind used to the pace I am going to run at the following day. It should feel relatively relaxed and comfortable however don't worry if not it may be down to pre race nerves.

Step 8: Race Day

The taper officially ends when you start your race however don't forget that the goal of this last week of the taper has been to get you feeling ready to race.

Be aware that having legs fresh and less tiredness can make you want to start the race too fast. Particularly with crowd support and other runners all around you.

Stick to your race strategy and make the most of your training.

Step 9 - Review And Reflect

A few days after the race, take some time to review what went well and what didn't. Also, review your taper week. If your legs felt tired, consider if you ran too far the weekend before. If you felt you went off too fast, think about whether you were mentally prepared to stick to your goal time. If you felt great and strong at the end, your nutrition might have been working well. Remember this for the next race.

Key Considerations For A Successful Half Marathon Taper

As a beginner it's always important to air on the side of caution and not be drawn into trying anything new in the taper period. for example often as race day approaches nerves can mean you may start to doubt your preparation. This is where it can be good to look over your training and see how far you have come.

You cant catch up for missed fitness, by pushing too close and hard near race day. You will end up doing the opposite and not getting the best from yourself on race day.

Additionally, if you are looking for further details and want to improve your running further, then it may be worth looking to work with a running coach. They will be able to build a taper to your half-marathon training plan.

A lot of runners make the mistake of following a generic plan which is not specific enough for them. While the above is some fundamental tips I have found work. Having a coach who can work with you and find out what you respond well to in the taper period can be very beneficial.

Additionally personally I would not include strength training particularly with any weights if you are experienced with how your body feels after strength training work then you may want to do some body weight exercies but personally I would not include strength training near to a goal race.

Taking It To The Next Level In Your Half Marathon Taper 

As you start to compete in more races or events, you may want to change certain elements of the taper. For example, you may find you like to take more days completely off per week than before, or you may prefer doing something light like a swim.

You can also consider getting a light sports massage a week or so before the race; let the therapist know you have a race coming up. The idea is to get your muscles relaxed and ready. However, don't put the massage too close to race day, as occasionally, it can leave you a little achy.

Alternatives on how to taper for a half marathon

Remember that you may have races you don't consider goal races, for example, elite athletes racing 10ks and half marathons, which many runners may do multiple during the race season.

Therefore, you don't always have to do a half marathon taper; however, just know that it will usually be harder to reach your normal level.

If, for example, you are viewing the race to practice a hydration or nutrition strategy or using it as a hard tempo-based workout, then you may not need to taper for a half marathon and just get out and compete.

If you are running your first half marathon, it is certainly worth implementing some form of taper and reducing your overall training load. Remember, whether you have been half marathon training for 11 weeks or 4 months, it's worth reducing the training volume in the few weeks prior to race day.

From my experience, completing a taper increases your chances of having the result you are aiming for. Sometimes, when I have not done a taper, it can go well, but it's more of a chance, how your body and legs feel.

My Overall Experience With How To Taper For A Half Marathon

I have raced many half marathons and used multiple taper strategies over the years. For my 1.09 time I did get the two-week taper just right. Doing what you may consider little things correctly can add up to a fantastic result come race day.

For example, during my taper week. I still attended the track session on Thursday, but it was easier than our normal 20 x 400. I did about 5 or 6 reps. Just enough to start feeling good.

Additionally, on race day, I was very specific about staying at my required pace, which was pretty much 5.20 per mile. I stayed with another runner throughout the race, and we could work together.

Above all, remember that the half marathon taper is something that you will be able to tweek and alter over time, both from your own experience and if you are working with a coach.


What to do 2 days before a half marathon?

You may want to take the day completely off 2 days before, and then the day before a light jog of around 15 or 20 minutes with some strides around race pace to get the body ready for your half marathon.

How many days should you taper before a half marathon?

It's worth reducing the training load and thinking about your race around 10 days to 2 weeks before race day. Once it gets this close, you want to avoid long, hard workouts.

About the author 


James is an elite distance runner and has also raced triathlon for a number of years. James is a fully certified UESCA Running Coach and has a passion to help all athletes succeed in finding a balance within sport and life.