Wasabi’s Awesome Guide to Marathon Tapering Success!

Rottweiler Puppies
What do puppies have to do with taper? Read on and find out!  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Howdy ho, Salty Readers! Today I would like to give a little love to those of you out there who are wrapping up your final long runs and gearing up for the (debatably) most difficult and anxiety-producing part of marathon training… Dun-duh-DUUNNN…

The taper!

As a creature of perpetual motion, I’ve never been a fan of tapering, resting, days off, etc. My natural inclination is to keep myself as busy as possible all the time. I suspect this inclination is driven by a deep-seeded innate fear that if I stop for even a moment I may never start back again, thus resigning myself to a life of depression, boredom and/or fatness. I tend to equate slowing down with missing out on living life to the fullest. I realize that probably makes me a little crazy. It also makes resting up for race day the most daunting part of training for me, and therefore I tend to shortchange myself when taper time rolls around.

Not anymore. Not with this taper plan!

First, we must venture into the past. It’s hard to believe, but there was a time in my marathoning life when just making it to the finish line was enough. But then, like so many marathoners out there, I caught the Boston bug, and just like that, timing was everything. I put my nose to the grindstone and increased my weekly mileage. I did the speedwork. I wore the compression socks. I foam rolled. I stretched (sometimes). Surely all of this stuff would offset the omission of tapering from the game plan. I mean the more work you do, the better the result, right? And yet the BQ continued to elude me.

After two mostly taper-less failed Boston qualifying attempts in 2011, I gave in and reluctantly penciled in Try Tapering right underneath Qualify for Boston and Don’t Eff It up This Time on my list of 2012 New Year’s Resolutions. And guess what … That taper shit totally worked!!! In March of 2012, I toed the line of the Napa Valley Marathon feeling completely rested, well-fueled and hydrated. And you better believe that I BQ’ed the crap out of that race with a new 11 minute marathon PR to boot! Since that fateful day in Napa, I have relied on the magical five-step taper plan below concocted by non-other than yours truly and my running bestie Saffron to taper for marathons like a boss. Allow me to share it with you now … May it bring you much fall marathon success!

1. Take as Much Time Off Work Prior to your Race as Possible! I recommend taking the entire week leading up to the race off if you can swing it. This part is especially critical if your job involves teaching 8 to 10 group exercise classes per week (as mine does), or is otherwise physically demanding. Although I typically begin gradually scaling back my running mileage as early as 3 weeks prior to the race, having most of the week off leading up to the marathon made it infinitely easier for me to truly rest both my body and mind in preparation for the big day. Hope you have been saving up those vacation days, friends. Now is the time to cash them in!

Time to cash in that hard-earned vacation time to rest up for your marathon! (Photo Credit: Blogging 4 Jobs)
Time to cash in that hard-earned vacation time to rest up for your marathon! (Photo Credit: Blogging 4 Jobs)

2. Sleep A LOT and Use Jet Lag to Your Advantage: Speaking of resting both mind and body, the second component of my five-step tapering program is sleep. If you are tapering for a marathon or long-distance race of another sort, please do not hesitate to take lots of naps, go to bed early, and sleep late. This will work out particularly well for you if (a) you embrace component 1 of the tapering program, and (b) you live on the east coast but your goal race is on the west coast. This way you will be inclined to go to bed early anyway and when morning rolls around you will most likely wake up pretty early without even noticing, thanks to that handy 3 hour time difference. *Note: Although I found the time zone change to be advantageous when traveling west across the Continental US, it proved to be very much the opposite for trans-Atlantic European marathoning. Destination races are fabulous, but whether you are traveling west to east domestically or internationally,  make sure that you allow yourself adequate time to adapt to the time change, and for the love of all that is good, sleep on the plane trip there!

Naps are your friend
Just remember, naps are your friend! (Photo credit: afcmed.com.)

3. Stuff Your Face with Delicious Food: You are going to need plenty of quality fuel to keep you going all the way to the finish line. During your final taper week, do not underestimate the importance of eating. A lot. Race week food choices that seemed to work well for me included crepes, gelato, fancy gourmet BLTs, and a sundry fare from various Italian and Farm-to-Table restaurants. Use your own good judgement and intimate knowledge of your unique digestive system and dietary preferences to make food choices that are appropriate for you a week out from your race. Here are a few examples of my preferred tapering meals…

Delicious Crepes a la Mode.
Delicious Crepes a la Mode.
Best damn fancy BLT I've ever eaten.
Best damn fancy BLT I’ve ever eaten.









4. Fill Your Week Leading Up to the Race with Fun and Relaxing Activities: Stay relaxed and focused as the big day approaches by participating in only fun, light-hearted, low-key endeavors. I especially recommend copious amounts of playing with babies (but not necessarily babysitting) and/or puppies or otherwise surrounding yourself with cuteness. Shopping is also a good idea, particularly if you have access to multiple Sports Basements, Target, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods stores.

Keep race week lighthearted and fun by hugging as many puppies as possible.
This is where the puppies come in. Keep race week lighthearted and fun by hugging as many puppies as possible.

5. Hydrate Like There’s No Tomorrow! My fool-proof marathon hydration strategy is based on the 2:1 ratio. Two bottles of water for every one Peet’s latte consumed, that is. In the days leading up to my race I like to average two to three Peet’s lattes per day. This means that my daily water consumption total comes in at around 4 to 6 32 ounce Nalgene bottles per day.  Just in case you were wondering, this hydration plan comes complete with an inordinate amount of peeing. (Don’t they all, though?)  I also fortify my water with those fun little flavored fizzy electrolyte tabs whenever possible. (Seriously, I think I went through an entire tube of that stuff in the final 36 hours before my last race!) Peach Tea flavored Gu Brew was my pre-marathon electrolyte-loading product of choice, but I think Nunn and Hammer Fizz are equally tasty and effective in keeping your electrolyte levels balanced and working in your favor on race day.

Drink 2 of these...
Drink 2 of these…
...for every 1 of these.
…for every 1 of these.









As silly as it may seem, these 5 things, plus a little help from my friends were all I needed to ditch my 2011 marathon funk, and land the BQ I was looking for. As you consider them, keep in mind that this tapering program is in no way backed by science, it cannot guarantee specific marathon results of any kind, and that I have absolutely no credentials as a running coach or expert of any sort.

What I do have is experience in (mostly successfully) completing 6 marathons, and what I consider to be a decent amount of good sense.  Remember as you move into your taper that (a) it’s an important part of marathon training that has been proven effective by sources far more credible than my humble personal experience. And (b) you’ve been working your ass off for the last 20 weeks or so. You deserve this glorious down time so you can rest up and relish dominating your big day like the marathoning rock start that you are!

Happy tapering to all, and cheers to a fall that sure to be filled with many a marathon PR!


What’s your tried and true tapering strategy?

Click here to see what my fellow Salties have to say about tapering.

Mid-pack racer and social running enthusiast. Full-time fitness specialist and part-time running store employee extraordinaire. Certified running gear fashionista and lover of laughing, lattes, and color coordination.

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  1. Great article! I just sent this to a friend who is training for Chicago, as she is starting to taper. I am training for NYC and have my first 20 miler this weekend so I am not quite there yet. Unlike you, tapering is my favorite part of marathon training:) I look foward to taking all of your tips to heart very soon!

  2. Ginger and I were just talking about tapering and how every run feels so … so … scary? Like every step might lead to an injury or might tell you you feel like crap or something. It’s like a 4 miler will drag on and on and seem like the most daunting task. I find it so hard to just run during taper. Anyone else experience that?

    1. Yes!!!! Everything hurts! I always try a couple of strides during a few easy runs, but they hurt. I always get the phantom pains that make me think I’m injured.

  3. Thank you for this post, it couldn’t come at a more perfect time! I am about 18 days out from my first full marathon! I am also dealing with an IT band issue so I am trying to take it easy. I love your coffee/water consumption ratio! I am a coffee addict!!

  4. I have never tried nunn but during my last 20 mile run experienced my entire lower body cramping up. I have one more week until my first marathon and hate to try something new as my stomach is very touchy. What are your thoughts about drinking the low cal poweraide drinks for a few days prior to the marathon. Will that give me some of the same minerals that I need. I plan to pound a couple of bananas per day leading up to the race as well. Any help would be great. I have only ran half marathons and tend to have purple lips and be a little “off” for a few days after and hoping that the poweraide prior to the run will help. I stick to water only during the runs as the other drinks upset my stomach.

    1. Purple lips! Cramping! Oh no – sounds like you’re on the right track adding some electrolytes. If things that aren’t water bother your stomach, Tracy, try Nuun. It’s really mild, milder than PowerAde surely.

      Honestly, you probably don’t need to be sucking down electrolyte drinks exclusively in the days before, but some could probably help. Maybe try the Nuun and consider adding a tablet to your water during the race? Are you eating during your long runs? Most gels have some salts in them.

      If you’re really wary of having any flavored drinks, you could try a pill, like Endurolytes, during the race, or I’ve even heard of a salt packet (like you find at a fast food joint) under the tongue. I’ve never tried either, but I’ve heard secondhand about success with both.

      1. Thank you for the reply!! I will have to see if I can get my hands on some Nuun before the run. I use Sharkies as my fuel and maybe a chocolate #9.. that is about all my stomach can handle. I will look into the other items and maybe pick one up at the expo and have it with if I am needing it. Thank you again and I love love love reading all of your articles!!!

  5. Great tips! I will be travelling two days prior to my marathon for interviews, so I need to make sure I am eating enough and hydrating enough. It’s particularly hard for me during plane rides. It’s either I’m getting up to pee all the time, or I’m dehydrated :\

  6. Great tips that have made me feel better about this round of tapering. I was worried I rested too much but seeing that taking a week off worked for you is encouraging! I’ve run a little bit more this week than week (marathon is Saturday) and actually feel way better this week than the last because I did rest quite a bit (3 days off). Also, I took a vacation day tomorrow and am so glad I did! Clears the mind. I’ll also be walking with my friend and her baby (no babysitting) tomorrow so that should help, too. Thanks!

  7. Ah tapering is such a challenge! Thanks for the tips! I couldn’t agree more with hugging puppies as a real answer to anxiety. Good luck to everyone in their upcoming taper and of course races!

    1. Hi Rocket! Welcome to the Salty running blog squad! So glad we see eye to eye on the ligit-ness of hugging puppies as a stress management tool! Important stuff! 😉

  8. Sup, Wasabi. I was curious about your use of caffeine on race day. Have you tried pre-race caffeine, and if so, did you feel it was helpful? I also wonder if you’ve read much about lowering mileage but UPPING intensity during the taper. I’ve seen articles emerging in the last few years discussing the benefits of very high-intensity workouts during the taper period. Great post, btw.

    1. Hi Cumin! Thanks for your comment and for the post love! I am personally a big believer in the magical powers of caffeine, and I regularly use it in small amounts both pre-race and pre-training runs. I usually pair my light pre-run breakfast with a few swigs of “caffeine enhanced” Nuun before I head out on my morning run, and I will often enjoy an extra-small cup of coffee a couple of hours prior to the race. Since caffeine is a regular part of my daily routine, I feel like this given me a little pick me up, even if it’s only psychological. But that’s just my two cents.

      As for low mileage/ increased intensity, I haven’t tried it, although I do knew a few people who swear by it. I tend to make a giant effort to over-compensate for my physically active job and lifestyle by seriously cutting both mileage and intensity. As long as I am going to work, I am teaching 8 to 10 group exercise class per week, which isn’t exactly conducive to rest and recovery. Thus, I have a kind of dramatic train hard/ rest big/ sandbag the crap out of your group ex classes tapering philosophy. Perhaps it is a little unorthodox, and I’m certainly still refining it, but so far I seem to be getting better results with less mileage and intensity and more rest! 🙂

  9. The only thing I somewhat disagree with is food. True, I think during the taper, you need to give your body what it wants. Sometimes, I crave chocolate so bad, it’s almost like I have PMS! But, I don’t go out and have 7 Hershey bars. I think there is a delicate balance so that you refuel the body but don’t gorge.

    I also think it’s important to not change your meal plan leading up to the race. If you haven’t eaten a large pizza the night before a long run, don’t do it the night before your race. I’ve seen this happen too many times to friends. The results aren’t good!

    Good luck to everyone!!! Very exciting times ahead!

    1. Hi Vanilla!

      Thanks for reading and for commenting! Just wanted to set the record straight. I certainly did not intend to condone or encourage gorging or otherwise seriously altering one’s meal plan leading up to a race. My apologizes if it came across that way! Just pointing it out that it is important to give the body what it needs by fueling properly and adequately. It’s been my experience that this is best accomplished by eating on a consistent schedule (ie taking care not to skip meals and to get all the calories I need in a day), and eating foods that I like and am used to. (Judge me if you will, but Nutella is a food that I like and it is a regular party of my diet. The same is true for BLTs.) I wholeheartedly agree that eating a large pizza the night before a race is a bad idea. 🙂

      Thanks again for your feedback, and happy tapering!