What to do the Week Before a Half Marathon

Runner working on her personal best

The week before a half marathon can make or break one’s performance. Months of training can be wasted by trying to fit in one last workout. On the other hand, resting too much in the week before a half marathon (or even the week before a 5k) can leave one feeling flat and low-energy on race day. 

Tapering is a training microcycle that usually takes place the week before a key event, such as a half marathon or a 5k. Longer events like marathons or ultramarathons require longer tapers. Tapering for an event is one of the most complicated and mysterious aspects of athletic performance. 

Learn the seven most common tapering mistakes people make the week before a half marathon. Follow the training plan for the week before the race to arrive fresh, fit and fast at the start line!

Avoid the 7 Most Common Tapering Mistakes the Week Before a Half Marathon

Tapering for a half marathon the week before is easy to mess up. Don’t make these seven mistakes!

1. Training too Much Before the Race

Many amateur runners think it is good to train hard right up until the race, particularly in the last few weeks. But these efforts turn out to be counterproductive. Standing at the start feeling tired is a recipe for disaster. 

Instead, decrease total training volume by 30-50% in the week before a half marathon, but not the number of intensity sessions. For example, if the total distance ran two-weeks before the event was 50 km, the total distance should be no more than 35 – 25 km in the final week before the event.

Intensity should not drastically decrease despite overall distance dropping. For example, if a training plan usually calls for two days of intensity per week, still perform those two days of intense training during the final week before the event. 

Reduce the number of intervals in a session by 20% of what they were in the last hard week of training. Even though overall running distance decreases, intensity may actually increase relative to the amount of total distance.

The bottom line: a good taper focuses on quality, not quantity. Do short and fast runs; decrease overall training distance by cutting back on endurance run distance.

A good half marathon training plan will have a built-in taper. Check out this FREE half marathon training plan pdf for a good example. Premium adidas Running members also receive exclusive access to customizable training plans from 5k – marathon.

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2. Not Working Out at All

Tapering and reducing training volumes does not mean you should just put your feet up and stop working out. The tricky part about tapering is not to lose the fitness and pace endurance you have built up. The best way to avoid this is by reducing your mileage and focusing on short and intense workout sessions.

In the last week, it is important to get one more hard workout in four or five days before the race. This is designed to give your muscles one last training stimulus and to prepare your body for the demands of the upcoming race.

Retaining intensity while decreasing training volume in the week before a half marathon has been shown to be an effective tapering strategy for most athletes.[1]

3. Strength Training and Unfamiliar Exercises

In the week before a half marathon avoid strength training and unfamiliar exercises. Fatigued and/or sore muscles can quickly endanger performance. Of course, continue to do stretching and mobilization exercises if they have been a regular part of training.

One exercise that could be beneficial in the week before a half marathon is a meditation exercise. Often, athletes develop performance anxiety due to the upcoming event and the abundance of energy (if they are tapering correctly). Meditation can help the mind prepare for the demands ahead of it. 

Try the guided meditation below by professional ultramarathoner Timothy Olson:

4. Changing Equipment the Week Before an Event

Never change any equipment the week before a key race! This ranges from running shoes to sports nutrition and diet. New running shoes can cause an injury that robs one of even starting a half marathon. Sports nutrition can lead to cramps or GI issues that ruin a race.

Remember:

Always always always test race equipment and strategy in training or at a practice race before a key event!

5. Poor Diet and Alcohol Consumption

Letting diet slip the week before a big event is tempting. The body is busy replenishing glycogen stores, appetite is high, but total calorie expenditure should have decreased. This can lead one to give in to sugar cravings, especially if one is nervous about the upcoming event. 

Now is more important than ever to eat like an athlete. Give the body the nutrients it needs to freshen up before putting in an amazing performance. Here are the nine best foods for runners. Don’t skimp on carbs the two days before the event, and use this carb calculator.

Important:

Don’t try to lose weight in the week before a big event.

Having an extra drink or two might feel good and promote relaxation; however, it can also lead to poor sleep and dehydration. If maximal performance is on the line, skip the nightcap in the week before a half marathon.

6. Not Sleeping Enough

Sleep is crucial throughout all training phases, but especially in the week before a half marathon. If one has been training hard, the body needs sleep to rebuild and regenerate. 

Race nerves can prevent athletes from getting quality sleep in the lead-up to an important event. Here are some practical tips to get fantastic sleep during this crucial week:

  • Go to bed an hour earlier than usual
  • Wake up an hour later than usual
  • Take a nap during the day
  • Meditate instead of lying in bed awake if having trouble sleeping
  • If sleep doesn’t come (especially the night before the event), just keep eyes closed and focus on breathing
  • Don’t stress about not sleeping enough (this will cause sleep issues itself)

7. Catching up on Life

Training for an event sometimes means putting other life factors aside for a time. Weeding the garden, helping kids with homework, cooking dinner or finishing a big project at work all take energy. It can be tempting to finally tackle those life factors that have been put off during training since tapering means less time spent training.

Don’t think of tapering as less time training, but more time for recovering. Because recovering is training too, all those projects can wait one more week. Don’t feel guilty about putting the feet up on the sofa or sneaking off for a nap. Ask partners for continued understanding for one more week and assure them their understanding will mean a lot.

Tapering Plans for Common Distances

Tapering is highly individual. Keep notes about how tapering for various events goes to find the ideal tapering strategy. The following half marathon tapering training plan is an excellent place to start to find one’s perfect tapering strategy. It is built for a race that takes place on Sunday. For a Saturday event, shift all the workouts to the left by one day (e.g., recover on the Sunday before the race, then do the slow long-distance run on Monday instead of Tuesday as shown).

Tapering plans

Plan 1: 5k

Monday – Recovery Day
Light jogging or easy stretching. Get in a nap.

Tuesday Slow long-distance run
30-45 min

Wednesday – Recovery day
Light jogging or easy stretching. Get in a nap.

Thursday – Interval or tempo training
10 min warm-up jog
5 x 3 min at 5K goal pace with 3 min jogging rest
10 min cool-down jog

Friday – Recovery day
Light jogging or easy stretching. Get in a nap.

Saturday – Short run with accelerations
10-15 min total running
Include 3-5 accelerations by increasing speed to near max sprint over 100m

Sunday – RACE DAY

Plan 2: 10k

Monday – Recovery Day
Light jogging or easy stretching. Get in a nap.

Tuesday Slow long-distance run
30-45 min

Wednesday – Recovery day
Light jogging or easy stretching. Get in a nap.

Thursday – Interval or tempo training
10 min warm-up jog
4 x 5 min at 10K goal pace with 3 min jogging rest
10 min cool-down jog

Friday – Recovery day
Light jogging or easy stretching. Get in a nap.

Saturday – Short run with accelerations
10-15 min total running
Include 3-5 accelerations by increasing speed to near max sprint over 100m

Sunday – RACE DAY

Plan 3: Half Marathon

Monday – Recovery Day
Light jogging or easy stretching. Get in a nap.

Tuesday Slow long-distance run
40-60 min

Wednesday – Recovery day
Light jogging or easy stretching. Get in a nap.

Thursday – Interval or tempo training
10 min warm-up jog
3-5 km at half-marathon goal pace
10 min cool-down jog

Friday – Recovery day
Light jogging or easy stretching. Get in a nap.

Saturday – Short run with accelerations
20-30 min total running
Include 2-4 accelerations by increasing speed to near max sprint over 100m

Sunday – RACE DAY

Plan 4: Marathon

Monday – Recovery Day
Light jogging or easy stretching. Get in a nap.

Tuesday Slow long-distance run
40-60 min

Wednesday – Recovery day
Light jogging or easy stretching. Get in a nap.

Thursday – Interval or tempo training
10 min warm-up jog
5 km at marathon goal pace
10 min cool-down jog

Friday – Recovery day
Light jogging or easy stretching. Get in a nap.

Saturday – Short run with accelerations
20-30 min total running
Include 2-3 accelerations by increasing speed to near max sprint over 100m

Sunday – RACE DAY

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Race day

Do you have a race coming up? We wish you good luck and a lot of fun.

If tapering for a half marathon has gone well, a personal best on race day is that much more sure. But even amazing tapering won’t overcome poor race day strategy. Check out the following posts to learn how to ensure a successful race day:

Train right for the next event:

Head to the adidas Running app now to start training right today!

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Morgan Cole Cole has over a decade of experiance as an endurance athlete. What moves him is moving you. View all posts by Morgan Cole »