This week we are focusing on the week before a big race. Thousands of people are running the Tri-City Medical Center Carlsbad Marathon and Half Marathon this weekend, and I'm hoping to help with my Getting Rad for Carlsbad series of articles. Yesterday I discussed general tapering tips. In this second post, we are going to focus on how to physically prepare for race day. While you've done most of the running you can do up to this point, there are still some little tweaks you can make to your training to maximize your taper period, ensuring you are feeling your best come race day.
The two factors that will have the most affect on your taper, and ultimately your race, are how much you rest and how much you eat. The taper period doesn't mean you stop running. It means you reduce the total number of miles you run, and as you get closer to the race, you begin to reduce intensity. With that said, if you haven't been doing higher-intensity runs as part of your training (speed work, hill workouts, tempo runs, etc.), the week before the race is not the time to give those types of workouts a try. If you trained without speed work and just ran your miles at an easy pace, that's the intensity you will reduce as you get closer to race day. If you did higher intensity workouts as part of your training, you can still do them, just don't run for as long or as hard. Here's a general outline of pre-race running that will give you an idea of what to do before race day:
- Seven days before the race: Run at a moderate intensity for about 90 minutes (your last long run, at long-run pace).
- Six days before the race: Rest
- Five days before the race: Run at moderate intensity for about 30-40 minutes (long run pace).
- Four days before the race: Rest or run at moderate intensity for about 20-30 minutes (long run pace).
- Three days before the race: Run at moderate intensity for about 20-30 minutes (long run pace).
- Two days before the race: Rest
- Day before the race: Run at very low intensity for about 20 minutes (slower than long run pace). This is often called the "shake-out run." It's designed to loosen the legs and reduce that heavy, stiff feeling you may get when you start running the race. It also reduces some of the anxiety not running can bring.
Your nutrition in the week before your race is key to your race-day performance. Many runners use the taper period to go overboard and eat way more calories than they need. Often in the name of "carb-loading," runners gorge themselves on starchy foods throughout the week before their race. Your body can only store so much glycogen and eating more calories (and carbohydrates) than you need will only result in storing what is leftover as fat. This results in weight gain. While small weight gains of a pound or two are not a big deal, gaining more than 5 lbs in the week before the race will have you feeling heavy and sluggish come race day. Here is a general pre-race nutrition for the week before the race. Keep in mind, this is a general outline and should be modified for your specific needs.
- Seven to four days before the race: Eat your normal amount of calories. Match your diet to your training and only eat your normal amount of food. For carbohydrates, this is about 3 grams of carbs per 1 lb of weight, or 450g of carbs for a 150lb person. Keep in mind that most carbohydrate foods range from 30-60g of carbs per serving. So your morning bagel can be 60g, add some fruit for 30g and you already have 90g of carbs. Carbs add up quickly, so be mindful that while you need to eat an appropriate amount, you don't have to go overboard.
- Three days to the day before the race: If you're running the marathon, increase your total carb intake to about about 4-5 grams of carb per 1 lb of weight, or 600-750g for a 150lb person. You may want to just do this 2-3 days before the race and go back to your regular diet the day before the race to ensure you don't overeat the day before the race. If you're running the half marathon, you can stick with the 3g of carb per 1 lb of body weight amount. There's no need for you to increase your carbs at this point.
Some other things to consider in this final week before the race:
- Drink plenty of fluids throughout the week to prevent dehydration. Don't go overboard, just be sure your urine is light yellow to clear. If you're flying to Carlsbad for the race, this will be especially important.
- Limit or avoid alcohol the week before the race. Alcohol affects glycogen storage, not to mention dehydrates you.
- Keep taking in your protein but remember to only eat what you need. The average runner only needs 0.5 to 0.6g of protein per pound of body weight per day. And even with a race looming, you don't need to increase this, especially since you're reducing your miles and intensity. Refer to my post about how to figure out your protein requirements.
- Try to avoid high-fat, high-fiber, overly spicy or unfamiliar foods in the week before the race. This is especially important for those of us with sensitive stomachs. Just stick with the types of foods you ate throughout your training.
- Don't cut back on salt in your food this week before the race, especially if you tend to sweat a lot.
- Don't go crazy the night before the race. Focus on high-carb foods but you don't need to eat a pound of pasta. Try to eat your normal amount of food early in the evening to avoid any stomach distress and/or that full, heavy feeling the morning of the race.