Wind-down Merchants

Entering a half-marathon can lull you in to a false sense of security. It's half the distance of the full 26.2 miles, so surely you'll only do half the training and half the taper, right?

But as experienced runners know, there's not too much difference between the two in terms of training volume (though beginners might keep their long runs below 13 miles), and you'll also need a marathon-style approach to diet, rest, mental strength, and the all-important taper.

Tapering for a half-marathon ideally begins two weeks out from race day, but your last longer run (and in some cases longest) should be, at closest, three weeks before the race.

Assuming your preparation has not been interrupted by injury, your body will have adapted to a regular pattern of training in the months and weeks leading up to your big day. It's a good idea to retain this lifestyle and training pattern in your final two weeks, gradually reducing the volume and intensity of your sessions.

A good taper isn't just about reducing your planned training sessions. The freedom that comes from not running as much can mean you have energy to burn and time to kill, but don't neglect these key areas during your two-week countdown:

Training

  • Get plenty of rest - don't do all the odd jobs around the house just because you have more time.
  • Expect to feel sluggish in the final few days. This is just the body shutting down and beginning the process of saving energy. The feeling will go as the race starts.
  • Make sure you sleep normally and try to reduce social engagements likely to restrict this. It's not unusual to sleep badly the night before your race. You will be fine, provided you slept well in the previous two weeks.
  • Review your training diary a few days before your race over a coffee with your coach or a training partner. It reminds you of how much you have done, how prepared you are and that you are ready. Then close the diary and stop worrying.
  • Run easy the day before the race. It keeps your legs loose and metabolism higher, making you feel a little better.

Diet

  • Stick to your normal diet. Don't try anything new, but perhaps eat more carbs and less protein in the final 36 hours before the race.
  • Don't comfort eat! You need extra energy, but not from junk food.
  • Eat your last big meal at lunchtime the day before the race, then top up with light meals and snacks.
  • Remain well hydrated but don't drink more than normal or drink extra sports drinks.

Preparation

  • Relax and try to take your mind off the race with other projects when possible but make sure you don't distract yourself with work or tasks that will cause stress
  • Have all of your travel and accommodation plans sorted at least two weeks in advance to avoid last minute panic and stress.

Race Day

  • Have your racing kit packed, planned and organised a few days in advance. Be happy with your shoe and kit choice don't pack anything brand new.
  • Eat your normal pre-race breakfast. Pack this if you are staying away from home just in case your hotel, family or friends don't have it. This is not the time to experiment or to miss breakfast!
  • Don't drink gallons of water before you start, just sip your normal pre-training run amounts. Extra water will weigh you down and could lead to unwanted stops.
  • Drink during the race but only as frequently as practised in training. Try to use the sports drinks in training before race day, as unfamiliar drinks could upset your stomach when you're running hard.
  • Don't get carried away by the crowd and other fast starters, run your planned pace. Those who start too fast will be passed by you later.
  • Run as even-paced as you can, at the pace you practised in training, and most importantly enjoy every minute!

Your taper schedule

The frequency of training days should almost remain the same as normal, although you might consider an extra rest day in the final week. Try to aim to reduce your training volume by about a third in the first week of the taper, and as much as a further third in the final week.

For an athlete training five days a week you might consider the following as a guide to your final two weeks. If you've been training less, reduce the runs accordingly as you certainly shouldn't be stepping up your training at this point. Just be sure to keep the key sessions, such as the longer run and the faster sessions. If you've been training six or seven days per week, add one or two easy runs of 30-40 minutes to avoid feeling restless or sluggish.

Two Week Countdown
Monday Rest
Tuesday Easy 40 minutes
Wednesday Easy 30 minutes
Thursday Final key session. This will depend on the kind of speedwork you've been doing, but consider trying 8-10 x 3 mins easy/3 mins at half-marathon pace on a continuous run. This could give you a 60 minute run with alternating 3 min blocks of easy pace and half-marathon race pace. A great final confidence boost.
Friday Rest
Saturday 40 minutes with last 20 at half-marathon race pace
Sunday East 45-60 minutes

One Week Countdown
Monday Rest. Treat yourself to a good massage if you can - nothing too heavy or you'll be sore at the week
Tuesday 10 min warm up + 4 x 5 mins at threshold/half-marathon race pace with 2-3 min jog rec + 10 min warm-down
Wednesday Easy 30-40 minutes
Thursday Easy 20-30 minutes. Consider running at same time as race start if possible to allow body clock and rhythms to adjust
Friday Rest
Saturday Easy 15-20 minutes with last five mins at race pace. You may feel sluggish but this is normal, and in fact a good sign. The body is just saving energy for tomorrow. Try to do this at the same time as your planned race start time.
Sunday Race Day. Stay calm and keep to your planned pace.