Congratulations! spring is near and you have signed up for a race and even made it through the gauntlet of winter training unscathed by injury, sickness, vaporization by polar vortexes, etc. The race day should be smooth sailing to an effortless personal best now that the hard training is done! Actually, I have found this isn’t always the case after occasionally having one of those “off days” in a race where “I just didn’t have it”. I dislike excuses as much as the next hard-core distance runner, but I think there is a reason for everything. Over the years I’ve fine tuned my last week of pre-race activities to get myself consistently feeling as good as possible when the gun goes off.
I will not be sharing these tips with you.
JK- It’s the point of the article, and I hope you use them on the way to a satisfying and uplifting racing experience!
1.) Individualize the Training Taper
Some people are work horses and feel best running less intense but higher volume workouts. Others are speedsters who feel fresh with less volume and a shorter, quicker track workout. Style your taper accordingly considering the race at hand and your strengths. Now isn’t the time to make fitness gains and you don’t want to come out of the workout sore or fatigued. In this week, no workout should have you going to the well regardless of your race distance!
The timing is variable too- a marathon is usually a longer taper because race day requires a lot of muscle glycogen and a general zest for life. I’ve known marathoners to gradually step down mileage 7-14 days pre race.
Any race less than the 26.2 miler or a less of an important race in a season can be prefaced by a taper as short as 3 or 4 days.
2.) Body work
If you have been running a long time you know what your problem areas are- maybe a sore left plantar, a tendency to get shin splints, chronic lower back tightness, etc. We carry the burden of a super-hero level cardiovascular system in our whiny joints. In the week before a race I like to get adjusted by a chiropractor or a light massage to address these specific things and I feel like I move with better economy out on the road afterwards.
Another strategy is the dreaded ice bath . Sounds awful, feels awful, there is scientific debate as to weather it works for recovery purposes, but I know a lot of runners will soak their legs in a tub of ice water for 10 minutes the night before a race because it makes them feel good the next day and it’s pretty easy to set up.
So, although you’re resting the legs, you should still keep up the annoying ancillary aspects to training such as stretching/ injury rehab exercises/foam rolling and icing that keep your body moving well.
3.) Hydration and Nutrition
Now is not a great time to lose weight, no matter what you think a runner “should” look like! The fitness is on the inside, as is the fuel storage, so although you may not be as famished as you were in heavier training, make sure that you’re still getting adequate carbohydrate intake. You don’t necessarily need to carb-load for anything under a marathon distance, but science says carbohydrates still efficiently run your body during exercise (despite the bum rap they get these days).
We all know hydration is important- but I’ve noticed I feel way better drinking sports drinks and not just water and that it is possible to obsessively over- hydrate to a point where you feel a little diluted . To avoid this I just aim for a bottle of my favorite sports drink when I wake up and before I go to bed and drink water with my meals.
4.) Know Your Gear
As they don’t say, you should wear all brand spanking new gear that you’ve never tried before on race day! This one is obvious but if you needed new shoes because you Quentin Cassidy-ed the rubber molecules off your old ones, make sure you did enough runs or workouts in them that you know what to expect mid competition.
Same goes for the race day outfit. You want to look cool, this is a given. It will be challenging to look cool if you start to get blisters and chaffing and have a perma-wince and pain hobble. compression socks are awesome in function AND style, but wear them on a long run and a workout first! If the weather is inclement, make sure you are comfortable in whatever hat, jacket or shorts are going to be soggily adorning your fit body.
5.) Don’t Fear the Sluggishness
Sometimes you just don’t feel great the week before a race because you are out of your normal routine in training and life and you’re just nervous and over thinking things. It’s normal for rested legs to feel a little sluggish and rusty and almost heavy, but the legs will be thanking you when you’re able to crush the last part of your race because you aren’t overly fatigued. I’ve made many a phone call to loved ones convinced I have inconveniently developed a disease before a big race. I’ll tell you the same thing they tell me- ” You’re fine. You probably don’t have Ebola, it’s pretty rare. You’re nervous and you will feel great as soon as the race actually starts”. And you usually will!