The last week of the running program is primarily a week of recovery from the past three months of hard training. There are a few race preparations that can improve your time in the final five days leading to the start.
RECOVERY FROM SEVERAL WEEKS OF HARD TRAINING
1) Reduce Level of Intensity and Distance.
Run at a moderate effort level in your workouts including any final speed workout. During the final 5 days you can’t whip yourself into shape with a hard workout because you won’t have enough time to recover before the race. Hard work + recovery = improved performance. No recovery = high fatigue = reduced performance. Therefore if you run speed work in the final week, then run it at a lower effort level. Your longest run should be 10km or less. Run an easy 5km two days before the race.
2) Reduce Cross Training.
There is little benefit to cross training (spin, cycling, swimming etc.) the final 5 days before the race. If you do cross train keep the workouts under 30 minutes. At this point you can only maintain your fitness and reduce any fatigue built up from the higher distance workouts.
3) Other Sports.
Totally avoid other sports the week leading up to a marathon. There is no need to risk an injury or a twisted ankle.
FINAL RACE PREPARATION FOR A SUNDAY EVENT
4) Fueling to Run Faster.
For high performance you need to fuel up for the race two days in advance. If you are racing the half marathon, eat double your regular daily calories for two or three days before the race to store excess energy in your muscle tissue. If you don’t like to overeat use 600 to 1000 calories of a complex carbo drink such as Carbo Pro to top up your stored fuel levels. Don’t gorge yourself the night before the race to avoid being bloated on race morning, and looking halfway through to make a pit stop.
I eat gluten free as much as possible over the final three days to avoid the inflammation and bloating associated with high gluten foods. (Note: Don’t start carbo loading a week before the race either. You’ll gain weight and it won’t help you either. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday eat a low carb high fiber diet and plenty of vegetables.)
5) Gear Race Ready.
Prepare your running gear well in advance to avoid scrambling the day before the race. Have your running clothes, shoes, gels, drinks special foods, etc ready a few days before to help you stay relaxed. Use Body Glide to prevent chafing and put a small amount on your toes to reduce blisters.
6) Hydration is Essential.
You will race better if you are well hydrated. Stay hydrated by drinking sports loading beverages designed for pre-event fueling on race morning. I have found sports drinks such as Carbo Pro mixed with Nuun electrolytes work well. Also, I drink them in combination with a protein drink to maintain a carb/protein balance.
RUNNING THE RACE
7) Race Day Food and Hydration.
a. Breakfast – Have a light breakfast to top up your fuel levels. Eat what you are used to eating and avoid high fiber or heavy foods. I usually eat gluten free toast and a sports bar with coffee.
b. Water – I try to reduce the chance of a pit stop during the race by not drinking water until 15 minutes before the race. At that time I will drink up to a half liter of water. During the race I take water at each water stop even if it is a small amount. I don’t stop at the water stop but keep running or walking while drinking.
c. Carbs, Gels, Beans or Chews – 1 hour before the race 400 to 1000 calories of Carbo-Pro depending on how much you can absorb. 10 to 15 minutes before the race starts I have half a bottle of water. During the half marathon have up to 2 Gels or equivalent of Beans or Chews. The best time to have them is as you approach a water stop so that you can wash them down with water. I usually have them at 10km, and 15km. If you are nauseous you may have taken too many gels which are concentrated in your stomach, and you can clear it by only taking water from that point onward. As the different forms of sugar are absorbed while you are running you will feel better.
d. Salt Tablets – If you have experienced muscle cramps during long training runs you should carry salt tablets during the event if you need them.
8) Plan your Route in Advance.
Using a pre-measured race course. During the race cut the tangents as much as possible within the boundaries of the course. Courses are measured going the shortest way possible. If you run a half marathon in the center of the road you may be running an extra 200m.
9) Stay within your Planned Pace.
You’ve been training to run a specific time. Keep your pace relatively close to it, with a plus or minus 10 seconds per km. If you start to fast you could hit the wall much later in the race. If you start out far too slow; you can’t make up the time.
10) Focus on your Running Technique.
Continue to focus on your running technique. Think about relaxing arms and shoulders. Maintain quick and light foot placement with high cadence. You will find this works particularly well with carbon plated running shoes. If you focus on your running technique the faster you will go as the shoes are designed for mid-foot running.
The final week is about recovery, eating, preparing, smart racing, and pacing. Good luck, stay positive, stay focused and you will have a great race.