Springtime is here, and with it come a multitude of spring marathons. If you’re closing in on an upcoming marathon, your actions during the final two weeks before the race are crucial to your performance. From that point on, it’s all about the taper.
Tapering is a period of “active rest” when your body recovers from all those weeks of hard training. It’s a delicate balance between running and resting that brings you to the starting line fresh and ready to go.
The process is tricky. If you run too much, you’ll be overly tired on the starting line. If you rest too much, you won’t feel sharp on race day, and may not run as effectively as possible.
In other words, there are lots of ways to screw things up. So here’s a list of suggestions that have worked for me, to help you maximize your chance of race day success.
- No more long runs: Your final long run should be no less than 14 days before the marathon. If you’ve missed some of your scheduled long runs, it’s too late to make up for it now. Anything above 15 miles now will most likely hurt your performance on race day.
- Cut back the mileage: Decrease your total weekly mileage by about 40 percent starting two weeks out. During race week, reduce your overall mileage by at least 60 percent. For example, a runner whose weekly training mileage peaked at 60 miles should run 36 miles the week before race week, and no more than 25 in race week. During the last four days before the marathon, don’t do any runs of more than three miles. If you’d rather take the last two days completely off, that’s OK too. Don’t worry about mileage during race week—you’ll get your fill on Sunday morning.
- Maintain the intensity: Even though you are cutting back on your mileage, it’s important to maintain the intensity of these workouts. Run at close to marathon pace, so your body is accustomed to the effort level you will demand during the race.
- Avoid the hills: Don’t run any hills during race week—it helps your legs recover more quickly. It’s just like with the mileage: you’ll get plenty of hills on race day.
- Choose your weapons: Decide what clothes you will wear on race day. Pick comfortable shoes, socks, and running clothes that you’ve already worn on a long training run. DON’T wear anything new on marathon day, unless you want to have a graphic chafing story to tell your family about afterwards.
- Gain a few—but not a lot: Since you are running less, pay close attention to your diet. It’s normal to gain a few pounds as your muscles stockpile the glycogen they will need during the race. But gaining more than five pounds will make you feel heavy and sluggish. Eat a bit less than usual, with well-balanced meals, and don’t start any fad diets.
Remember, carbo loading doesn’t mean overloading. The night before the race, just eat a regular sized meal with a higher percentage of carbohydrates than usual. On race morning, eat a small portion of a bagel, banana, or oatmeal to top off your tank—but don’t load your stomach to the brim. Twenty-six miles is a long way to run with a stomach cramp.
- Wake up early: If you’re not accustomed to running in the morning, try a couple of morning runs, so your body gets a taste of exercising at that time of day. Marathon start times are frequently at 7 a.m.—and if you’ve never run at that hour, it can be a bit of a shock. You might as well get it over with prior to race morning.
- Eliminate extra activities: If you do any cross training activities, don’t do them during race week. Don’t do any unusual activities that might cause muscle soreness afterwards. This isn’t the time to catch up on housework or repair projects. If you have extra time on your hands, just get more rest or take a nap instead.
(I know this rule isn’t popular with spouses, but I’ll take the heat on this one. Tell your spouse I said so, and he or she can write me an angry e-mail instead of venting at you. After the race, however, you’re on your own.)
- Cut your toe nails: Do it five or six days before the race. Trust me on this one.
- Be paranoid: It’s fairly common for runners to get minor illnesses while tapering, so stay away from sick people. Wash your hands after touching anybody. Just make like Howard Hughes for a couple of weeks, and you’ll be assured of staying healthy.
- Visualize success: The mental side of marathon running is extremely important. Beginning today, picture yourself running relaxed and strong, and having a great race. Repeat this scenario each day. Be confident in your ability to succeed!
- Enjoy yourself: Yes, you should take the precautions above, but don’t get so overwhelmed with worry that you forget to enjoy the experience. Think of how far you’ve come in your training, and resolve to have a great time on race day.
And then all that’s left is to go out and do it!