The Marathon Taper

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Welcome to the start of MARATHON WEEKEND!


(add 0.2 – it wouldn’t fit in blueberries!)


My banana oatmeal contained:


  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup rice milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 sliced banana
  • Toppings:  flax and dried blueberries


My best friend Lauren, who is actually the person who inspired me to start running way back in 2006, is coming down from NYC to run the marathon with me!  Ironically, when I started to run with Lauren (and I could only do 1/4 a mile at a time!), she was training for a marathon.  Lauren blew out her knees (sound familiar?) and couldn’t do that marathon…. so DISNEY is her first, too!


I did a blog interview with Lauren if you want to check it out to learn more about her – she’s a pretty amazing woman!  She’s a triathlete in addition to being a runner.

The Taper Twitch


One of the things I wanted to discuss today is the dreaded TAPER.  A taper is when you take a certain amount of time off from running immediately before a race, which gives you “fresh legs” and allows you to run faster and with more energy during the actual race.


You taper for almost any race distance.  For a 5K or 10K, I usually only taper a one or two days because my body is so adjusted to running longer distances.  For a Half Marathon, I try to taper for at least three days.


But a marathon taper is TOTALLY different.  Any good plan will have you tapering for at least 21 days prior to the race!


The week before my taper began, I ran 36.5 miles.  This is how I tapered for the marathon:


  • Week 19 – Ran 16.1 miles, walked dozens more on vacation in London.  Longest run was 5.0 miles.
  • Week 20 – Ran 16.0 miles, walked dozens more on vacation in London.  Longest run was 7.0 miles.
  • Week 21 (race week) – So far, I’ve only ran 3.0 miles, and I’m going to do 3.0 this afternoon.  And that’s it (besides 26.2 miles on Sunday)!


Although I would’ve liked to do at least one longer run during my taper, it just didn’t happen because I was on vacation, but I hope the walking made up for it.  In Week 18, my longest run was 22.0 miles!


Why is it important to taper?  The evidence speaks for itself!  (source):


  • A review of 50 studies on tapering published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones–all depleted by high mileage–return to optimal ranges during a taper.
  • The muscle damage that occurs during sustained training is also repaired.  Muscle strength increases.
  • Tapering improves your immune function.  This minimizes the risk of getting sick or injured prior to the race.
  • Finally, the average performance improvement by the subjects who tapered was 3 percent. That works out to 5 to 10 minutes in a marathon!


But tapering is HARD mentally! To drop back down to 16.0 miles a week felt… wrong!  I was getting pumped and excited to run the race, but my mileage was dropping, dropping, dropping.  However, I know how important it is to TRUST YOUR TRAINING.  I also know there is nothing I can do one week before the marathon that will make or break the race for me.


I get so many e-mails from people who are upset that they need to take time off and I always remind them that it’s OK to rest!  If I can taper for 3 weeks and still run a marathon, you’ll be fine taking a few days off for injury, illness, or vacation!  I’ve found it helps to focus on other things (like push-ups!) when you have to cut back on other aspects of my fitness (like when I couldn’t run because of a knee injury).


How does taking rest days – for a taper, an injury, or a vacation – make you feel?  How do you balance these emotions?



  • Jessica @ How Sweet January 7, 2010, 9:16 am

    I usually have no problem taking rest days. I tend to schedule them on Sundays, when I am out of the gym for good (not working that day, no workouts) and I enjoy it. I know its part of recovery and just as important as working out!

  • Casey @Spicy&Sweet January 7, 2010, 9:17 am

    Rest days do not make me feel good :(. I got a stress fracture in my foot a few months ago and had to take 8 weeks off completely, and it was pretty hard starting up again. But it truly does make you realize how much you love running!! I really missed it.

    Good luck on your marathon Caitlin!!! 🙂

  • Meghan@traveleatlove January 7, 2010, 9:27 am

    Rest days used to make me panic, but I have been running so long that I now have a new perspective. I can take up to 3 weeks off doing nothing and still come back in pretty much the same shape as before. And yes, mixing it up and doing other things like abs and arms helps when I am off running and too busy while traveling for work. Those are the times I realize how out of shape my upper body is!

  • Anne Marie@New Weigh of Life January 7, 2010, 9:31 am

    I love rest days 🙂

  • Danielle (Coffee Run) January 7, 2010, 9:34 am

    When I tapered for my half marathon I was not happy! I just had too much energy…I was itching to run (or release endorphins). But I know it’s important.
    Love the oat-art 🙂

  • katherine January 7, 2010, 9:35 am

    Taking rest days used to send me into a frenzy – how would I adjust my calorie intake? Would my muscles lose strength? Would I gain weight? Now, actually with many thanks to you and other bloggers, I’ve learned to approach rest days as part of my training and physical health, not a departure from it. I’ve learned to embrace the taper (as much as possible) while training for two marathons and it’s been such a blessing to have that time to recover and regroup for the race. Good luck this weekend and have a blast!

  • Heather @ Side of Sneakers January 7, 2010, 9:38 am

    21 days sounds like an eternity. Tapering for a marathon is especially difficult mentally because you’ve just worked up to your longest run ever, then all of a sudden you have to stop. It’s SO important though, and you’ll know that as you bust through the finish line of a race 🙂 There’s plenty of time to run after the marathon 🙂

  • Carolina John January 7, 2010, 9:40 am

    love the taper…. embrace the taper. it’s ok to be lazy.

    plus remember you will only be able to run 2 miles a week for the next 4 weeks or so after the marathon. i’m getting so excited for you!! good luck!

  • Lily @ Lily's Health Pad January 7, 2010, 9:41 am

    I just want to caution the advice to focus on pushups or other activities.

    From what I’ve read, you don’t want to be building new muscles in the time period prior to a marathon. Your body needs to focus on repairing and strengthening your running muscles.

    I wouldn’t suggest trying a new strength routine (or cardio for that matter) near the end of marathon training. I know that’s not what you were suggesting, but I just wanted to explain for those who might not understand.

  • Britt - Runnerbelle January 7, 2010, 9:44 am

    Tapering is hard. You get so into your training and then all of a sudden you are resting on days you usually trained on.

    I also find it hard before a marathon as you are anticipating it so much and have been training for so long, you just want to get’er done!! People are wishing you well, asking how you feel, etc. Just adds to it all.

  • ashleigh January 7, 2010, 9:45 am

    I have never run a race so I have never had to taper. I am new to running and only run 2-3 miles at a time. I hurt my ankle a few months ago and had to take 2 weeks off from running and I was nervous to get back, but I was totally fine. I was able to run just as far as always!

    I am getting SO EXCITED for your marathon recap!!!

  • Julie @ Peanut Butter Fingers January 7, 2010, 9:46 am

    i love a rest day. it was actually really tough for me to embrace a day or two of rest a week, but it’s important – not only physically, but mentally as well.

  • Morgan January 7, 2010, 9:47 am

    I’m not a marathoner, but when I swam in college we would taper and it was rough. It always made me really emotional for some reason. I remember laying on the couch watching a Matchbox 20 video on MTV and bawling. It just took so much out of me for some reason. It does make a difference, but it shocks you mentally and physically when you are used to a certain level of activity and just kind of stop.
    That being said, enjoy your taper and good luck this weekend! I’ll be thinking about you and all of the runners, you will all have an incredible time!

  • Lindsey @ Eat, Read, Run January 7, 2010, 9:48 am

    My taper for my first marathon back in October was tough! I felt so guilty for not running more and started questions whether I was “ready.” I was certainly ready and needed the rest. Then the day of the race I was literally thrilled to be running again! It was an amazing feeling and I’m glad I trusted my training plan. Goodluck!!

  • Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg January 7, 2010, 9:49 am

    Rest days are not something I have a big problem with, but they do make me feel a little…off. I feel like I just feel better on days that I get some sort of workout in!

    Keeping rest days full of non-workout activity (like a long walk) seems to do a good job of curing that “lazy” feeling for me.

    BEST OF LUCK during the marathon!!

  • Rachel January 7, 2010, 9:50 am

    I think what I worry about when taking time out of any exercise regimen is that I won’t be able to motivate myself to get back to where I was. Part of that is my own “bad” history with exercise, but it’s also that so much of exercise & health is a mental game with yourself.

  • Neely January 7, 2010, 9:51 am

    I love rest days mainly because I usually have a great workout the day after one.

    I usually take two days off a week (one usually being Sunday) and will take a long walk on one of the those. The other day I do nothing, yay! Best feeling.

  • Freya @ January 7, 2010, 9:55 am

    Oh I HATE taking rest days – I used to never be able to, and I went about 4months without a day off! But then I got injured, (and went mad in the rest period :p) so now I’m incorporating two days off a week. It’s difficult cos I have so much energy, but I just tell myself my body needs it, and I’d rather 2 days off a week, than 2 months off for injury!
    I hope you’re not going too stir-crazy tapering lol 🙂
    (Cute breakfast btw!)

  • Jenna January 7, 2010, 9:56 am

    Ya for Lauren coming!!
    Tapering does sound so strange but it does work!

  • RhodeyGirl January 7, 2010, 9:57 am

    I’ve always called this the pre-race blues. I am happy to know it has an official name!

    I feel so GROSS right now. My muscles are ACHING for a nice long run. It doesn’t feel right, but I am trying to trust it. I felt the exact same way before the Philly Half though, so I guess it is about right.

  • Allison January 7, 2010, 9:59 am

    For big swim meets at the end of the season, we always did a 3 week taper. I HATED TAPERING. The first week I liked because we had REALLY hard workouts, with lots of sprinting. The second we took a lot easier and the third week was REALLY easy and we had much shorter practices. I always started feeling out of shape the second and third week and I always thought I was losing fitness and getting slower. But tapering ALWAYS worked. When the meet came, I always swam fast. Tapering is hard mentally but what it does for your body is really important! You just have to trust all the hard work and the miles that you’ve put in over the past few months! Don’t even think about the miles now, just get excited for your race and you will do great!

  • RunToTheFinish January 7, 2010, 10:09 am

    Oh I am sooooo excited for you! This is such a great journey you are on!

    Taper for me has been a learning process. I figured out that I couldn’t do a dramatic taper and have a good race day, so I don’t drop my mileage quite as much as some of the new runner plans recommend. I enjoy the run and that’s part of the reason I don’t race as often either, I don’t want to take time off before to taper and after to recover.

  • Erin January 7, 2010, 10:12 am

    I’ve been loving blueberries every morning — can’t believe I didn’t think I liked them until this year!

  • skinnyrunner January 7, 2010, 10:24 am

    great post! i dont like to taper, i feel the same way, like im losing my fitness but you just let it go and then have a great race!

  • Jenny January 7, 2010, 10:27 am

    I’m finally arriving at a place where taking a complete break from all exercise one day a week feels amazing for me. I guess it helps to know that I am going to be refresh and rested for the coming week. (my rest day is either friday or saturday)

    However, something I still need reassurance on is letting myself rest more when I have a cold or some unforseen circumstance. I think with time we become more comfortable with these emotions, but I know that taking time away from regular routine is hard for everyone to some extent.

  • Jessica @ The Process of Healing January 7, 2010, 10:37 am

    Wow this question is right up my alley! I am suffering from an injury right now and I can’t run or do any form of cardio and to be honest, it’s driving me insane! However, I found the things that have really helped me are focusing on other things that I can do (like strengthening my abs and upper body). I also made a list of all the things I can do to fill the time that I used to fill with running (such as reading, trying out new recipes that i’ve been meaning to forever, etc.).

    Not being able to perform to the levels that you are used to is honestly more mentally challenging than physically challenging to me. But i’d rather time a small amount of time off than end up not being able to run for months and months or do permanent damage to myself. I try to keep in mind that not only WILL I run again and recover from this, I will come out a stronger person.

    I also have realized the importance of rest days and listening to your body. Taking more rest days and listening to my body more may have prevented my injury but all I can do is learn from it and change how I treat my body. And one thing is for sure, I will NEVER take a single run for granted again.

  • Katie January 7, 2010, 10:39 am

    Great post Caitlin! I got the flu in November and couldn’t work out for a week. I seriously depressed myself in thinking that I was going to lose all of the results of my hard work. Of course that didn’t happen. A lot of it is truly mental!

  • Paige @ Running Around Normal January 7, 2010, 10:44 am

    I can totally see how it’d be mentally hard to train for a marathon – especially your first! Glad to see your trusting the research and historical data. I’m so excited for you!

  • Marissa January 7, 2010, 10:46 am

    This is all so exciting!!!! 🙂

  • Jessica January 7, 2010, 10:50 am

    I soooooooo wish i could be there to watch you all run..

  • Megan January 7, 2010, 10:51 am

    The taper has definitely been getting me antsy, too. I cut my mileage by around 25% each week from 55 to 32 to 26 (good luck for the marathon, right?) and have only done 9 so far this week. It def was made easier by the fact that I also was on vacation over Christmas so it was nice not to have to run 2035982395 miles. But the taper period does get me really psyched up for the race…i’m so jittery1!!!

  • Janna (Just Flourishing) January 7, 2010, 10:52 am

    Wow, that’s so amazing that your marathon is so soon! I’m so so excited for you!

    I am just starting my training for a half marathon, so I will look to you for tips and advice!!!

  • Amber K January 7, 2010, 10:56 am

    The hardest part for me in taking rest days is getting back on track again. Whenever I take a day off I’m amazed at how many things I get done that it is hard to convince myself to take the time for myself again. It is so silly! But I am trying to get better about it.

    (BTW this is my first time commenting on your blog, but I’ve been reading them for awhile. You have such an amazing talent! And I love your Operation Beautiful and have left a few of my own notes!)

  • Heather @ The Joyful Kitchen January 7, 2010, 10:57 am

    rest days reek havoc on me emotionally…i honestly haven’t found a way to balance the thought of my body needing rest with the desire to do more more MORE to lose weight (something I know i need to work on).

    i’m getting really excited about seeing how you and Meghann do this weekend 🙂

  • Stacey January 7, 2010, 11:20 am

    I think the week before the marathon is the worst part of the taper. Just remember the months of training that have gone into this…one week will not break your performance. As you have researched, it will most likely help your performance. You’re so ready, you’ll do great, we can’t wait to hear all about it!

  • Ali @ Food, Fitness, Fashion January 7, 2010, 11:39 am

    Great post! I can imagine that tapering is hard for you mentally. I would feel nervous, like I would loose my stamina by tapering. I guess trusting your training is really key.

    I take 1-2 rest days a week and sometimes that is hard for me. Working out is a stress management tool for me big time and I can see the difference when I don’t work out. I try to remind myself that it is smart. But, it is hard.

  • Laura@FindingAHealthyBalance...after a 100+ POUND weight loss! January 7, 2010, 11:39 am

    I have yet to do any real Tapering as I have only ran 5K’s & one 10K so far in my running career, however I can only imagine how difficult it must be and I did take 2 weeks off of running over the holiday’s as I was just so BUSY and my knee was starting to hurt bad on my last few long runs so I decided to take some time off! Luckily the holidays (family & friends) distracted me from getting to down about it but I felt it still inside and out……gained a few pounds and felt more stressed (just off)!!!! So I was very happy to start back on Tuesday and am looking forward to my long run on Saturday, just hope I won’t freeze! =O

  • Lauren January 7, 2010, 12:02 pm

    I hate rest days. Really, really hate them. Whether they’re due to tapering, sickness, etc., I am not a fan. However, I force myself to take them nowadays, because I’ve dealt first-hand with the consequences of not taking them (injury and exhaustion). While I still don’t like them, I now view them as critical to my overall health and fitness.

  • Mama Pea January 7, 2010, 12:04 pm

    I thought I was on Kath Eats for a minute with that 26. Maybe I’m not a true runner, but I always look forward to tapering 🙂

  • Andrea January 7, 2010, 12:07 pm

    I hated taking days off from my training but learned the hard way by making a once large blister enormous and infected. If I had any chance at running the half marathon at the end of this month, I was advised to stay off of it for at least 1-2 weeks. I was worried I would lose all of my endurance. After taking time off, I was surprised I went right into an 8 mile run with no problem. It is very important to listen to your body, so I’ve learned.

  • Loretta @ RunRettaRun January 7, 2010, 12:14 pm

    I don’t mind tapering so much but I know when I have to be on a “break” b/c of the children’s illness or my own, it is torture and my legs itch for a run!

  • Carolyn January 7, 2010, 12:30 pm

    I created an 8K training plan on the Runners World Smart Coach. it has me doing 5 miles the Thursday before the race. I think I’m gonna move that down to 3 and back to Wed. This whole running thing is quite a learning process.

  • Natalie January 7, 2010, 12:47 pm

    Resting is hard for me, but important for the body so I try to keep that in mind! Whenever I’m tempted to workout on my planned rest day, I try to think of my body being full of energy during my next run or workout.

  • Robin January 7, 2010, 12:58 pm

    Good luck on Sunday!

    I made Disney Marathon cookies today….check them out on my blog! I am running Goofy this weekend.

  • Robin January 7, 2010, 1:00 pm

    Good luck this weekend. I will be out there running Goofy.

    Check out my blog for some Disney Marathon cookies that I made for my trip.

  • Sana January 7, 2010, 1:01 pm

    This is good info for me! For when I start running 🙂 are you buying new shoes for the race?

    • caitlin January 7, 2010, 1:38 pm

      no!!! never buy new shoes for a race. you need a few weeks to break in new shoes and make sure they won’t hurt you. i’m wearing the same ones i bought at the start of training.

  • Kristine January 7, 2010, 1:04 pm

    I usually hate taking rest days….but sometimes it really is necessary! I actually just wrote a post about it! 🙂

  • Jolene ( January 7, 2010, 1:10 pm

    I don’t even run – yet (my goal for 2010 is to learn to run and run a 1/2 marathon), and I can already picture how it would feel to taper. That would be SCARY!!! I know that I would feel like I wouldn’t be able to run a marathon if I don’t practically run one a few days before – probably stupid thinking – but hard not to think that way! I totally see where you are coming from.

    My hubby is training for his first marathon this year. He has done many 1/2s and also an Olympic triathlon. I am going to ask him how he tapers.

  • Sarah @ See Sarah Eat January 7, 2010, 1:15 pm

    Love the 26 in the oatmeal, hehe. Good luck this weekend, you’ve done everything right and you are going to do great 🙂

  • Heather @ Get Healthy With Heather January 7, 2010, 1:28 pm

    I usually don’t mind taking an extra day off from running, especially when I’m still recovering from pain, but I always like to get some sort of exercise in even if it just turns into a walk.

  • caronae January 7, 2010, 1:32 pm

    I love your blueberry 26!

  • Evan Thomas January 7, 2010, 1:36 pm

    I used to hate taking rest days. Now, I haven’t ran in almost 3 weeks, so I don’t know how I’ll feel about rest days when I get back into the sport.
    Love the 26, and dried blueberries! I can’t seem to find those around here not costing an arm and a leg

  • VCK January 7, 2010, 1:39 pm

    I’m sure you’ll probably get to this before race day, but what can I say? I’m an impatient girl. I was wondering if you’re planning to use the Galloway method in the race after a certain distance (say, 18 miles or something). Or are you planning to run the whole thing? In both of my halves, I tried to run the whole time, but it didn’t happen either time. Walking was definitely involved. I know you’re a fan of Galloway, so I’m just curious what your race plan is.

    • caitlin January 7, 2010, 1:56 pm

      i am not planning to use galloway, mostly because i don’t think my average pace will be fast enough to require that. i hope i can run the entire thing!

  • Cassie @ A Very Busy Mind January 7, 2010, 4:51 pm

    I was just talking about rest days today (specifically the mental “I didn’t work out today, so should I restrict my calories?” battle that some people experience). This is definitely something I need to work on. The blogging community certainly helps with that, though!

  • Ally January 7, 2010, 5:40 pm

    I HATE taking a rest day, even when I’m not training for something! It’s mainly because I hate the guilt that comes with it. I know this guilt feeling is crazy-one of my New Year’s goals is to work on that.

    Although if I have the hangover from hell I have no probs taking a rest day…:)

    Good luck for the big day!

  • Kath January 7, 2010, 7:47 pm

    What I beautiful bowl of oats 😉

  • Cynthia (It All Changes) January 7, 2010, 7:52 pm

    I always feel guilty taking a few days off. But I’ve learned to do so. I pushed myself training for my first 10K that ended me up with ITB Syndrome and Tendonitis in my hip and no race. So now I’m more likely to take the time even if I don’t enjoy it. I still get activity in even if it’s just yoga.

  • The Jesse January 7, 2010, 10:18 pm

    I have a love/hate relationship with rest days. I hate to love them and love to hate them.

    GOOD LUCK at your marathon! I can’t wait to read your race recap!!! HAVE FUN!

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