Marathon Tapering Advice: The Week Before a Marathon

After I finish my last long run before a marathon, 2 weeks before I embark on my 26.2, I usually start to think about tapering.

The week before the marathon is very important. You can’t really do much to improve your fitness, but if you get the taper for a marathon wrong, you could sabotage everything you have worked so hard for in your marathon training.

Today I thought I would give you some marathon tapering advice, but not so much the drop in mileage, as there is plenty to read on that already, and I already have this for you to read if you doubt yourself before a race.

Today I wanted to talk about all the little things you can do in the week before a marathon to prepare for your best race.

The things that are often forgotten about in most marathon taper guides.

Below each section, I will show you how I am putting this into practice myself, and give you my marathon morning routine, which you can tweak to make your own.

Hopefully it helps you for your next big race!

Tapering 1 Week to 3 Days Before a Marathon

This is a good time to start getting up three hours before your race time.

If you are racing at 8am, yep, I would say for the week before you should get up at 5am.

Sorry! But how bad do you want to race well? 😉

If you can start your run at race time, that is even better.

If you are nervous before the marathon

Go to some pretty areas to run, remind yourself of why you do this, and just bring the joy back to running…..if you are anything like me, the last few weeks were kind of intense and stressful, so getting away from performance and instead enjoying the simplicity of running for the endorphin rush and hard work you have put in is just what we need.

But remember:

Don’t go anywhere that is dangerous.

When I say pretty places to run, technical trails with lots of opportunity to roll your ankle is just asking for trouble!

tina indiana

I also recommend going through some visualization practices, primarily going through scenarios of things that could go wrong, and how you would overcome them. I used to think that would be just tempting fate, that I only wanted to envision the good things, but in reality, it will help you be MORE confident, because in a marathon especially, something WILL go wrong on race day. If you do this exercise, you will be prepared for how to get through that without panicking.

What to eat the week before a marathon

This is where carb loading begins, but that does not mean loading up on foods that you have not eaten in a year. When it comes to the week before marathon diet, you need to be safe above all things.

You can celebrate with whatever you like after the race, but your marathon taper nutrition with a week to go needs to be very similar to what you have been eating all along.

Lots of carbs from sources you eat regularly, switching out some of the fat, protein, and vegetable calories for carbs.

Notice I said that you just switch out the calories, that is one mistake runners often make. You do not need to eat extra, but just make the percentage of carbs higher. You do also not need to restrict calories either, your body is still working hard to get you ready. If you are obsessing about gaining weight, it might be worth listening to this podcast episode with Nancy Clark.

There is no need to panic if you gain a little weight this week, you will burn it off during the race, and carbs hold in more water, so more carbs will mean more water weight.

Besides, would you rather run your best a few pounds heavier (which no one would even notice) or run it “light” but bonk at 20 miles?

I know what I would choose.

Stay away from the scale!

Get your loved ones to hide it for you.

Flying before a marathon?

When you travel, try to move as much as possible, and if you are flying, wear compression socks.

If you are driving, stop every few hours and go for a walk.

What do you do?

When I raced the California International Marathon, we flew out three days before the race. This meant a lot of eating out, but through careful planning, and looking ahead to restaurants that had food that was close to what I usually ate, we were able to keep my diet the same, and therefore keep the stomach upsets away.

Some of the carb loading sources I like to eat a lot of:

When you are a week out, you do not need to be as particular, up to three days before, you can choose foods that are a little more fun, and remember to celebrate that you have made it through your marathon training schedule and to the race!

As my race was in California, I made sure to be awake by the time I race, but thanks to the time zone difference that was not really a problem. That week I tried to keep my usual getting up time, and ran at what was 7am PST for the entire week (10am EST) to make sure my body was ready to race at that time for this California Marathon.

Tapering 1 -3 Days Before a Marathon

You should be used to getting up at race time by this point, and now the focus really needs to be on staying as stress free and relaxed as you can be.

If you are nervous before the marathon

Spend lots of time chatting to your loved ones.

Many runners make the mistake of thinking they need to spend the time “in the zone” or focusing on the race, but actually, at this point, I find that is the worst thing for us to do.

Instead, try to get friends to come meet you, at a nearby coffee shop, or at your house. Celebrate the time with friends and family, and remind yourself of why this race does not define who you are.

Running the week of a marathon

When it comes to your runs, these should be so slow you can’t even hear yourself breathe. I am talking a 1 on the scale of easy to hard!

If you feel crappy, don’t panic, it’s the taper, you are supposed to feel like that. Read this if you are doubting yourself in the few days before a race.

We all have moments of believing that we cannot possibly cover 26.2 miles in the time that we hope to (or others say we can), but remember, it is completely normal to feel this way, and if you are smart with the race, you will be fine.

I would recommend 2-4 strides after one of those runs, they should feel good.

Resting before a marathon

Make sure you are getting enough sleep, we all know we don’t sleep the night before a race (and don’t worry, that doesn’t affect your race!), but these nights, you should be going to bed early enough to get 8 hours (especially with your early wake up time to practice!).

This is where your really have to start resting, but not too much.

If for your daily life you are on your feet 15 hours a day, and you suddenly turn into a couch potato who orders people to get you food as you are resting, your body will probably not handle it very well.

Rest a lot, but every few hours try to stretch out your legs and walk to a coffee shop for a drink, a short walk around the mall, or just around the block.

What to eat 3 days to 12 hours before a marathon

Continue to eat those foods you are used to, but as it gets closer, remove more of the vegetable and fruit calories, protein and fat calories for carbs, and make them “safe” carbs.

Things you KNOW sit well in your stomach.

If that means being awkward and asking for “no cheese” on your sandwich as you know daily upsets your stomach, but you have to wait an extra 5 minutes, DO IT!

Now, this is important:

Have your biggest meal, you know, the one we all look forward to stuffing ourselves without any guilt?

Yeah, that one. Have it either for lunch, or for an early dinner.

DO NOT go for that meal at 7pm at night! You are just asking for trouble!

You should also be drinking a lot of water.

No, not entire bottles every 3 hours, but just little and often throughout the day.

What do you do?

As I mentioned, it is important for a marathon tapering plan that there is a lot of resting, but also walking around and exploring the area in short bursts with sit down breaks in between.

Before I leave for a marathon, we make sure we have researched the restaurants to eat at during this time that suit the diet Steve and I live on. That way it removes a stress of what to eat, and you can avoid walking around extra trying to find somewhere that works for you.

Oh, and you know what else will continue during this time?

Eating my sweets! I will be having something sweet every evening even at this point.


Because I had them every day during the build up, so why would I remove them now?

Full disclosure: At this time I usually take 2 Benadryl each night to knock me out at night. I know I don’t sleep much the night before, but if I know the two days before that were good sleeps, then I feel much more confident.

Tapering The Night Before a Marathon

Try to go to dinner early.

Book a restaurant you know you can trust for 3, 4 or 5pm (you will be up early to eat again!), and then go for a short walk afterwards.

If you can find a restaurant around a 1/2 mile walk from your hotel, that is ideal, as you can walk home to keep your legs moving and move some of that food down a little if you overdid it.

Get to your hotel by early evening, so you can relax and just hang out with your loved ones.

Try to create a relaxing environment (no action movies), and just chill. You are still resting and preparing at this point.

If you need another snack before bed, by all means have it, but just make sure it is something you know sits well.

Put in some earplugs and an eye mask, and get into bed with about 9 hours to go

Accept that you are probably not going to sleep, and you are fine with it.

A lack of sleep the night before will not affect your performance, and you are still lying still, so you are resting, even though it might not feel like you are.

Sometimes, I find that I do actually sleep well, as I have just accepted it, so I can relax.

What do you do?

My pre-race meal is a baked potato, so keep it simple and find either a Jason’s Deli for a GIANT baked potato (or even two) or a McAlisters Deli around 4pm the day before. As long as I can find a baked potato, that is what I have practiced with as my meal before a marathon, and that is what I will stick to….even if I have to go to purchase a potato and get someone to bake it for me!

We will have some kind of elite meeting the night before where I drop off my bottles filled with UCAN Superstarch and EnduroPacks Liquid Electrolytes , and then after this, I will head to my hotel room and relax.

Although elite runners get to have their accommodation covered, it usually means we have a roommate, so in this situation, I hope they have the same idea in mind as me!

If the race were at 7am, I would be getting up at 4am the morning of the race. This means going to bed probably around 8pm, although like I said, you have to accept you are probably not going to sleep!

Last Minute Marathon Tips: Marathon Day

Wake up at least 3 hours before race time and start to move around, sipping water all morning.

Listen to music if you find that is comforting, for me, I do not care so much for music, I would rather talk to my loved ones to stay calm 🙂

Eat your morning of the marathon breakfast and drink your coffee/tea just like you have practiced to do so, and then try to relax for a little while.

Visualize the day, and know that it is going to hurt, but you are going to make it to the finish line with a smile after the journey you have been on.

Talk to your loved ones, and have them encourage you, tell them that you are nervous, and most likely, they will remind you that they will love you no matter what, and remind you that you are so much more than a runner. I find talking to others helps reassure me that this is not a life or death situation!

Getting to the marathon start area

Head to the start area with plenty of time.

It is better to get there a little early than be panicking that you are not going to make it, even if that means going to hang out in a McDonalds close to the start area for a little while.

Take a set of warm clothes with you that you are going to throw away on the start line.

It is best if they are easy to remove (zippers on the side of the pants or very loose to be able to pull over your shoes).

Put those on over your race outfit, but under your warm layers. Once you give your clothes to the gear check, keep the warm layer on till the very last second.

Going to the bathroom before a marathon

Find a bathroom with PLENTY of time.

If you get there early, go straight to the bathroom, and spend a good 10 minutes in there just relaxing and….well….getting as much out as you can.

If for some reason you are having trouble, try to get another hot drink (preferably one you know that sits well in your stomach- this is NOT a time for hot chocolate), I would stick to a tea. This should get things moving.

If you are still unable to go, just try not to worry. before I ran my 2:41 in the London marathon, I could not go AT ALL that morning, and I was so scared I was going to need it during the race, but I didn’t.

Stress about it for a little while, but then just try to let it go, and accept that it will be okay…..worst comes to worst, there are portable bathrooms along the course!

If you do a warm up, jog 5-10 minutes VERY easy.

I often use this time to run to a bathroom a little farther away, so I can go in peace without standing in line!

What do you do?

As I mentioned, I wake up around 3 hours before the race, making sure to move around the hotel room a little, or even down to the lobby if my roommate wants to sleep a little more, sipping water with EnduroPacks Liquid Electrolytes in it.

Immediately upon waking up, I eat my sweet potato, almond butter, and banana with a tea.

I like to drink my coffee at 5am and most then spend a good chunk of the next hour in the bathroom 😉

I talk to Evie (my sports psychologist) and my parents at some point during this time, which helps me to be confident, and know I am loved, no matter what.

I like to get to the starting area with about 90 minutes to go, BUT I often have an elite tent to stay nice and warm in (sorry, guys!), and then talk to Steve about the plan for the marathon.

In this way I am very lucky, but I make sure to go directly to the bathroom once we arrive, as standing in line is still an issue!

With around 45 minutes to go, I go for a 5-10 minute VERY SLOW jog.

Once I get back, I will change into my Saucony Fastwitch, remove some of my layers, and put on my compression socks.

I tuck Run Gum into my sports bra (with the edges trimmed so it doesn’t chafe!), and tuck a gel into my Saucony Bullet shorts just in case I need it.

Say goodbye to Steve, listen to any last-minute words of advice he has for me, and then think about the plan for the day:

It is only a race, it does not define who you are. All you can do is your best. Be kind to yourself. 

As you can see, for me, it is mostly about bringing myself down a level.

Removing the pressure from myself as I know I will do my best, and I know I am good at judging my pace if I listen to my gut.

Final marathon day tips: as you approach the start line

Be confident.

Remember, you have worked so hard for this. You have given up so much for this, and YOU are ready.

Stand in a confident pose (I like to put my hands on my hips, narrow my eyes and look ahead), and say to yourself something like “I got this” or “I am ready”.

Whatever comes to your mind, but make it be confident, and repeat it over and over. A mantra if you have one is ideal here.

Yes, you are probably nervous, but look around, so is every single person out there.

You know it is going to hurt, you know there are going to be dark times, but you also know that you are STRONG, and you did not do all this work for nothing.

You WILL make it to the other side, it is just running, just putting one foot in front of the other, and at times, that is all you can do, but most of all, remember this:

Be kind to yourself.

You are doing this because you enjoy it, and even though moments will be tough, as long as you are doing the best you can for that particular moment, that is all you can ask.

And you are doing a heck of a lot more than anyone else who is sitting on the couch.

So trust in yourself, and be calm and confident.

After this, I would probably take a second to go over your race plan in your head, that it is SUPPOSED to feel easy at the start. After you have revved yourself up there, step back, come out of your confidence pose, and put yourself in a smart, management role.

Assess how you are going to complete the task at hand, and almost bring yourself down a notch. Take that energy away and put it in your pocket for later.

You HAVE to manage this marathon correctly if you are going to run your best, and that will mean going slower than you think you need to those first few miles.

If you can run without looking at your watch, I encourage you to do so.

Fight the urge to look at your pace, other than those first few miles to make sure you are not going too fast.

As you step over the line, make sure to smile.

This is the best part, the part you worked so hard for.

As my buddy (okay, so he’s not my buddy, but I met him), Brian from Backstreet Boys says; show em what you’re made of.

How does your pre-race build up differ?

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  • This is such fantastic help for anyone preparing for 26.2! I’m super excited to see how well you run and will be tracking you…if I can…along the way! GO TINA GO!!!!

  • This is great advice for anyone preparing for a marathon. Ha, I’ll probably need it if I ever revisit that distance. I do agree though that is best not to even worry about weight and be properly fueled and hydrated. I’m looking forward to seeing how you do Tina!

  • I’d love if you would link this up with Running Coaches Corner! I think our readers would love to see what happens for an elite, and that the advice is applicable for them as well. GOOD LUCK

  • Thanks for this Tina! I tend to go for a 10-15 min. slow shakeout immediately after waking up on race morning (again, 3 to 4 hours prior to the start time). Do you find that there’s a benefit to waiting until 45 min. before the start to do your shakeout shuffle?

    • I do complete shakeouts if the race is anything later than around 10am, but with marathons they are mostly so early that I do not feel it is necessary. I just like to do it 45mins before as its just given enough time for my body to digest the food 🙂

  • Thanks Tina – yet another great post! You are batting a 1000 this week (this is a baseball stat, not sure if they say this in the UK;-). May I ask that you do a post race blog with this same format? I know I would love to see your recovery plan if you can share.
    Good luck at CIM! We’ll all be pulling for you!

    • I could….but heres what that looks like… sugar, lie on the floor complaining that my legs hurt, eat more sugar, ask my husband to carry me up the stairs, ask him to bring me sugar, lie awake all night unable to sleep from the race buzz, get up for more sugar. Repeat for 2 weeks 😉

      hahahaha but yes, I will put something in the works!

      • HA! LOL – too funny. I think you earned the right to both the sugar and lifts up the stairs 🙂

  • Sara @ RunningWife
    November 16, 2016 9:41 am

    So excited for you!! I look forward to seeing how you ROCK CIM! I’ve heard so many great things about that race! You will do awesome!

  • Awesome advice, Tina. Every bit is so important. I shared. I am really curious to try your sweet potato with almond butter. I’m going to give it a go before a long run when I start training for Boston this spring.

    My coach, Andrew Simmons, is also running CIM. Wishing you both all the luck in the world. You got this!

  • This is awesome- I love the specifics, like trim the edges of the gum so it doesn’t chafe! Those are the details that really matter race morning. So, so excited for you!!!

  • I feel calmer just reading this! Thanks for sharing this Tina, it’s just like you say, having it all thought out ahead and having a good idea of how the week before a marathon is going to go really helps to keep the nerves at bay, especially as it’s taper time. Best of luck!

  • This is an awesome guide, Tina – so comprehensive and informative! I am so excited for you – you are absolutely going to crush it at CIM!

  • Jennifer Valentine
    November 16, 2016 5:09 pm

    Do you not use gels at all? Wondered why you said “in case I need it.”

    • Nope, no gels 🙂 I did test them out a little this season, but found they upset my stomach, so I stuck with ucan and rungum 🙂 I just have the one in my pocket unless I am absolutely desparate!

  • 1. I have goosebumps reading this!!! 2. I can’t wait to try Rungum 3. Crossing my fingers you come to LA during your CA trip!!! 4. This post is so, so awesome!! 5. I wish I was going to be up there to cheer you on!! 6. SO EXCITED FOR YOU!!!!! 7. You inspire me!!! xoxo

  • Great article!
    Wondering about the sweet potato. Taste preference or more beneficial than other carbs?

    • It is a whole food, so that was my number one reason. I explained how I have been moving away from gluten and processed foods, so prefer Whole Foods, and yes, LOVE sweet potatoes, so made it a win win! 🙂 Have you tried?

      • I also love sweet potatoes. But, I have mine with lots of butter and brown sugar melted into them. I will try them in the pure style next weekend for my long run. Usually In the past I had 2 Honey Stinger waffles and a banana before and tailwind during.

  • Martina Di Marco
    November 18, 2016 10:35 am

    Question: do you keep track of how much water you drink during those last three days?

  • Carley Glasser
    November 19, 2016 8:33 am

    My best friend from college raves about you (Charlotte Browning) and stated how real you are in your blog entries/posts. I have become quite a fan and find that almost every entry resonates somehow! I am running CIM too (arriving Thursday as well to acclimate from Florida) and am trying to scope out restaurants that parallel my normal training diet. Have you found any that stand out?!

  • So bookmarking this page for the day I go sign up for a race!

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