Should you taper before a tune-up race during marathon training?

We all know that tapering before a goal race is important to perform at your best. But should you taper before a tune-up race?

Run wicked fast marathonahs!!! #bostonmarathon #bostonstrong

A photo posted by Jason Fitzgerald (@jasonfitz1) on

That’s the topic of episode 24 of Q&A with Coach – where I take your personal questions about racing, injury management, pace strategy, and all things related to training.

Today’s question comes from Kevin:

I’ll run a tune-up half marathon four weeks before my marathon. Do I semi-taper for that one (like 3-4 really easy days)?

Or do I keep the same mileage like I would do if it was just another long run on sunday?

This is a fantastic question because it’s important to run a good half before a marathon. While it’s not necessary, it does have several benefits:

  • You can practice racing (it’s a skill, after all)
  • More experience going through your race day routine
  • Your finishing time provides an excellent benchmark of your fitness, allowing you to further refine your marathon goals

And all of these benefits help with overall preparation for a marathon, just like with a properly planned season (here’s how to do that).

But a tune-up race is not a goal race. So should you taper beforehand? Or not at all?

The answer (of course) lies somewhere in the middle:

Show notes:

:40 – Kevin’s question about tapering before tune-up half marathons
1:10 – The traditional taper approach before a goal race
1:30 – The number of easy days before a tune-up race
1:55 – The benefits of this “hybrid” tune-up approach
2:15 – The benefits of a tune-up races
3:15 – What does a full taper look like?
4:10 – The Taper Rule
4:30 – An example tune-up and taper schedule for a goal 5k
5:30 – What if the tune-up race itself is an ultramarathon?
6:15 – Other variables to manipulate to feel your best on race day

Do you have a question about your training that I can help you with? Email me or shoot me a line on Twitter and I’ll get your question featured!

How I Prepare for a Tune-up Race

I thought it would be helpful to share the training I did before the 2014 Rock n Roll half marathon in Washington, DC – which was my tune-up before I ran the Boston Marathon.

Here’s my daily mileage the week leading up to the race:

Mileage Before a Tune-up Half Marathon

This is how it was structured:

Monday: 5 miles easy (I was at a wedding the weekend before and was tired from dancing and wine!)

Tuesday: 10 miles easy in the morning with 7 miles in the evening. Ran 4x15sec hard during the final mile of the 7 miler.

Wednesday: 14 miles with 2 x 3200m at tempo (last 200m of each 3200m @ 5k Pace). The volume of fast running was reduced before the half.

Thursday: 10 miles easy

Friday: 5 miles easy with 4x15sec hard during the final mile

Saturday: HM tune-up (check out this action shot)! Ran 3 miles to warm-up and cool down, with 4 strides before the race.

Sunday: VERY easy 11 miles

So, what did I do here?

First, I didn’t cut the mileage before the half. It’s the same as it would have been if I wasn’t planning on racing 13.1 miles that Saturday.

But, with a wedding the weekend before, I ran my last long run on Wednesday of the prior week. So I did get extra rest in that way.

And perhaps most importantly, I did reduce the intensity of training before the half marathon. The five days before the half included 51 miles but only four of those were hard.

The result was my 3rd fastest half marathon ever with a 16th place finish in 1:14:05. With a proper taper, I probably could have set a PR!

For more on tune-ups, check out my article Practice Makes Perfect: How to Run a Tune-up Race.

And if you’d like to learn more about how to plan your training season, download our free Season Planner Worksheet.

Best of luck to our marathoners this spring – run smart and finish strong!

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  1. Paul Herzog says:

    You mentioned something to the effect of a tune-up half marathon is a good opportunity to practice your race nutrition plan. While i agree that this is a good time to practice with the same breakfast prior to the race, do you really feel that your hydration and mid run fueling should be the same as a full marathon?
    During a marathon i feel that of course i need to stay adequately hydrated however during a half i think minimal fueling is required. I should mention that i run about a 1:19 half. At this pace do you agree that really all that i need is maybe 4 – 10 ounces of fluids? I think an energy gel would not be necessary, right?

    • You’re absolutely right Paul; you don’t need to practice the same fueling as your marathon. But practicing a fueling plan during a race situation is different than, say, during a long run. It’s a valuable learning experience, especially for runners who aren’t as experienced as you are.

      Generally in a HM for someone who’s running times like you, you’ll need 0-2 gels (or equivalent) with some water to wash them down. If you have a high sweat rate and/or the conditions are warm, you might need more water. But for an 80min race or less, fueling and hydration is minimal.

      • Paul Herzog says:

        Thanks for the response Jason. You’re absolutely correct in that conditions may impact hydration needs, esp. considering sweat rate. It’s hard to mimic race situations in a long run or any training run.
        Thanks for sharing all the info that you do,

  2. Wow! You ran every day and even three long runs Tuesday to Thursday and a 19 miler on Saturday just prepare for a ½ marathon. Now this is what I call dedication and an addiction. I wish I had 50% for your drives and training. I brought your dynamic stretching and it helps a lot preventing injuries. I run once every 4-5 weeks some time 8-10 weeks in between from 6 to 14 miles and that is it (with my little kids to watch it is hard to get out and run). However, I still manage to run full marathons with petty good time.

    • Well no, I didn’t run any long runs before the half that week. “High” mileage is relative and for me, this was a typical high training week. But thank you 🙂


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