Tapering Prior to the Big Race: Advice from a Runner and Physical Therapist on how to Maximize Race Day Performance

running injury, chronic pain, return to sport, marathon training

Spring is here…still. I am thankful for the gorgeous days and warmer temperatures. These beautiful spring days we have been experiencing in St. Louis have given us perfect running weather and upcoming spring races are closer than we realize. With the St. Louis Go! Marathon Weekend only 2 weeks away, Boston Marathon being 3 weeks away, and Big Sur Marathon less than 5 weeks away, I wanted to review some important tapering techniques to help prepare runners for their big race.

It’s easy to say you are going to go out for a long run with the current weather; however, tapering is an extremely important phase of training for any race distance. This phase, done correctly, can help maximize performance by protecting the body from fatigue on race day as well as reducing the risk for injury. Tapering before a race consists of reducing the volume and duration of training to allow your body to recover. During this time, you are giving your muscles a chance to recover, focusing on nutrition, testing out your race day gear and routine, and familiarizing yourself with the course.

While you should reduce the duration of your training, the frequency and intensity of training does not need to change during the tapering phase. Here is a general guideline for tapering prior to a race:

Time to Race Day Tapering Volume Decrease*
3 weeks 20%
2 weeks 30%
10 days 50%

*Volume decrease is taken from the last full training week. For example if you ran 45 miles total last week and your Boston Marathon is 3 weeks away, you should decrease your mileage for the upcoming week to 36 miles in total

While tapering occurs during your final phase of training, it is still important to focus on nutrition, hydration, and sleep throughout training and especially during the week of a race. Here are a few tips for the weeks and day leading up to a big race:

  • While in the taper phase, don’t try to squeeze in any extra mileage you feel you may have missed during your training.
  • Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!
  • Do not try anything new in the days leading up to a big race. Specifically, you want to avoid trying new foods during your pre-race carb loading or any new gels you received from the expo so as to avoid GI distress. You also want to ensure your race-day gear has been used.

Remember to stay positive, pace yourself early, have fun, and allow your body some rest and recovery. Good Luck to all of those racing in the upcoming weeks.


About the Author: Samantha Bixby, PT, DPT, Astym Cert., is a runner and physical therapist practicing in St. Charles, MO. She is a regular at training runs in Forest Park and has completed multiple marathons and endurance events. She is scheduled to participate in the upcoming Big Sur Marathon in April. She is passionate about running and specializes in video motion analysis for runners.