If you’re preparing for a spring marathon or half marathon, the week leading up to the race can be an exciting yet confusing time. You’ve worked hard and done all the training, but as the big day approaches, you’re being instructed to barely run at all. This pre-race process is called tapering, and it’s intended to conserve your energy and set you up for a positive outcome on race day.
Don’t worry, having a lighter week is not going to harm your fitness levels or undo the diligent training you’ve done. In fact, it is generally accepted that it takes two weeks for any training efforts to translate into a positive effect on your performance. This means there is no sense trying to cram for this final exam. If you push it too much or over-train in the final week, it can actually have the opposite effect and hinder your chances for success.
Your last major workout should be on the Saturday preceding the race. This should be a highly focused workout where you are disciplined about staying within your target pace. Starting on Monday, you will begin to cut back your mileage as part of the taper phase. You should be doing light running only and taking some days off.
Some people struggle during this period, as they feel restless and out of routine. This is normal. As best you can, try to enjoy the fact that you have this extra time to relax and do other things. This gradual easing up of your mileage is allowing your body to disperse the residual fatigue products that have been carried from one workout to the next. When race day arrives, your legs
will have that extra snap to ensure your best performance.
During the week leading up to the race, you should concentrate on keeping yourself well hydrated, eating complex carbohydrates and limiting the amount of fat in your diet. It is also wise to avoid consuming alcoholic beverages, since alcohol is a diuretic and can cause you to lose precious water. Choose water or fruit juice instead and look forward to having a celebratory drink after your race.
Two days before the race is a key time to get some extra sleep. This will ensure that you are coming into the race well rested, especially if you are travelling to a race away from home. It is also a good day to have a relaxing meal with friends or family. Go to bed early and if possible, don’t set an alarm for the next morning.
The day before the race, maximize your hydration by carrying a water bottle with you and sipping from it regularly. Frequent trips to the washroom are a good sign that you are indeed well hydrated. Try to drink 6 ounces (170 mL) of water every hour. Your urine will be almost colourless if you are drinking enough.
On this day, you may be picking up your race kit and visiting the event expo. It is an exciting time, but hanging around too long can leave you tired. Head home or back to your hotel to organize your gear for the race. Once everything is set, it’s time to put your feet up. Try to rest and stay in a lying-down position as much as possible. Distract yourself with music, a movie or a book you’ve been meaning to read. If you start to feel jumpy, do some visualization exercises to calm your mind. Visualize the start line, picture yourself running strong, and imagine what it will feel like to receive your finisher’s medal.
The night before the race, you may find yourself getting up to go to the washroom because of your dedicated hydration efforts over the past 24 hours. Don’t worry about the lack of sleep—that’s why you made the effort to get lots of rest the previous night. When race day dawns, enjoy the experience and try to roll with whatever comes your way. You’ve trained, you’ve tapered, and now, it’s show time. Good luck!
John Stanton is the President and Founder of the Running Room. He is the Author of 10 books on Running, Walking & Family Fitness.