Marathon taper

Physiotherapist Scott Mitchell shares some marathon taper tricks.

Just as it should have been warming up for the longer runs, it got colder than ever. Now all the hard work is done but you have the delicate job of getting the taper right. Thanks to the unusual conditions everything may not be straight forward, so here are my key tips for getting through the important final weeks before the race.

Prepare for a little heat

You can almost guarantee that the first hot sunny day of the year will be marathon day and you need to be prepared for it. Not just for the sake of your performance, but in extreme cases your health. Here are some cross-training session suggestions to get you used to the heat so you're fully prepared for the big day:

Spin classes

Interval sessions on a bike have good carry over to running and these classes tend to be in relatively small crowded rooms where the temperature and humidity can get pretty high. Joining a few of these classes could be just the thing to help prepare you for a warmer race day.

Bikram yoga

Hot yoga classes will help your mobility and control while getting in 90 minutes of exercises in 40 degree heat. They tend to be packed so the humidity is also likely to be high. There are normally very cheap introductory deals that you could take advantage of, too.


These advanced treadmills are becoming more widely available and are an effective way of allowing your legs to recover from hard training while maintaining fast turnover, normal pace running. If you leave the fan off, it gets hot!

Stay healthy

Don’t take too many risks with your health. A cold now would be as devastating as a serious injury. Even a very mild cold would still affect your running for a number of weeks. From personal experience, the two most important things that you can control are sleep and hydration.

The value of sleep can’t be over-estimated. Getting plenty of sleep in the lead up to the race will help your body to recover from the stress it has been put through during training, while a lack of sleep will leave you run down and vulnerable to picking up anything that's going around. Importantly, plan for an early night the Friday before the race as Saturday night may be a write-off. Don’t get too distressed if this happens as it is normal and the excitement before the race can contribute to a good performance.

Hydration is important for a lot of reasons, including fighting off infection. Start to pay more attention to increasing the amount of water you are drinking in the lead up to the race. 


By now you should have worked out what works for you so don’t deviate wildly from what you've been doing. From something as simple as a big pasta meal on the night before the race leaving you feeling bloated, to trying a different flavour drink or gel at the water stations leading to stomach cramps, now is not the time to experiment. The best advice I can give is to stick with what you know.

What else to look out for

During the taper you will get anxious and fixate on every little niggle that comes along. During your training you will have developed areas of tightness but the act of getting out and running will have loosened things up and helped to maintain your mobility. Now you are not moving so much these stiff or sore areas will start to be more obvious. Look to get a couple of massages and spend some extra time on stretching.

The other temptation during the taper is to squeeze in some extra training. You aren’t going to significantly increase your fitness, but will risk leaving yourself fatigued. The goal now is to reach the start line feeling fresh and confident.

Now that the work is done, the taper gives you the chance to take care of the details. Work out your routines, organise your kit and get excited about raising money for your charities and attacking your goals. It will be one of the most amazing running experiences of your life! So best of luck and see you at the finish.

Find out more about Scott here.

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Discuss this story

I have a question.  Could you please tell me the common cure for walking during a marathon race.

Posted: 15/04/2013 at 16:57

Er, keep running ?

Why are you walking ? Gone out too fast ? Run out of energy ? Cramped up ? Not used to the distance ? Ipod run out ?
Posted: 15/04/2013 at 17:33

Bloody hell Ian - 10 years since your last post ! I'm glad you've had nothing to report for the last decade !
Posted: 15/04/2013 at 17:34

I dont know what the cause of the problem is, this is the first time I ever experience something like this, I guess I lot my mojo.

Posted: 15/04/2013 at 18:04

Cramped Quads and then calf spasm on the ground to get streched out

I tapered for 3 weeks...

I ran the Bonn marathon on Sunday and was never out of breath, HR never above 165, did 1st half in 1:47 then completly imploded at 33k mark started walk / run strategy; was hydrated / taking gels / energy, my walks became longer in time than my runs etc then guts it out for last 3km walk / run and then finished 3:59 but not out of breath but physically my quads felt like glass shards inside them and was waddling, painful every step, some forums (similar cases to me) say it must have been my core failing (i did no core work) and then i may have an overstep hence more pronounced / bad biomechanics, am 82 kilos 5 ft 10 inches solid build (not runners build!) and am strong on 10kms runs (under 45 mins etc)

I was shocked as thought i was going to run out of breath but instead i ran out of legs...i reckon i would have got a 1:35 half marathon time and was like i am trained for half marathon....maybe not enough long hard miles (longest run was only 16 miles)

Any advice would be appreciated and i think i need to see a sport physio to get a check up on style etc

Posted: 16/04/2013 at 08:30

Check out Jeff Galloway's Marathon book. (I have it on Kindle)  There are many great stories of runners doing speedy marathons, (under 3 hours) breaking long standing PBs etc with starting to take  regular walk breaks, with negative splits and loads of energy left.  Don't think of walking as giving in, but getting it strategically right (ie early enough) that in the last 8 miles you are speeding up not slowing down and feeling bad!

I'm with Jeff, walking is getting to be about macho, (both female and male!) not about optimising all the strategies at your disposal to run as quick as you can.

Posted: 16/04/2013 at 13:11

Reply to Ali Gates - I'm no expert but I am completing my 9th marathon on Sunday (hopefully), i'd suggest you have already figured it out. In my mind it's the long runs, they weren't long enough. The last 6 miles can be bad enough and the experts seem to advise on getting one or two 20 milers in the bank. Your time was solid  and under 4hrs, they reckon most runners will add on at least 20 minutes once they have multiplied their first 13 miles by 2!

Posted: 22/04/2013 at 19:23

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