The final countdown: 10 tips for the week before your marathon
The final week before your big race, whether that is a half or full marathon, or even an ultra, can be a stressful time. It is also a time with your reduced running workload that gives the body time to rest and assimilate the benefits of those long weeks of hard training. Here are 10 simple tips to ease the stress and leave you on the start line ready to race.
1. Race-day kit list
Get all your race-day kit sorted well in advance. You should have decided on your main kit and worn it on a run or two at least.
Lay out your race-day kit on your bed from top to toe. Don’t forget some comfy post-race kit too. Have it all ready in a separate small race-day bag, clearly labeled. If necessary, you can then also use it as your baggage bag to collect at the finish line.
Go over, or prepare, your pacing schedule. You will know from your training how fit you are and what your expectations might be.
If you can't commit things to memory, write key splits on your hand if necessary and be prepared to slow down and adjust your pace. The age-old advice of start slow and go a bit slower, is still excellent advice to follow if you want to be strong in the last third of the race.
3. Race drink strategy
It is such an individual area, but using the experience you have built up on your long training runs, work out how much you need to drink and when. Race feeding stations eliminate the need to carry your fluids.
Check your race instructions or the race website to see how many feed stations to expect at your race and also what is going to be provided.
4. Plan how you will travel to the start
Always allow more time than you think, as you will not be the only one traveling! There could be a few hundred or even a few thousand people on race day. Be patient, you are all doing this together!
If planning to meet family/friends after the race, plan your meeting point in advance either at the race dispersal area or at a nearby landmark/café etc. Ensure your mobile is fully charged, and you have agreed an approximate meeting time.
5. Eat, drink and sleep well
In the week before the race, ensure you eat well and sleep well. Much is written and discussed about exact feeding strategies. Don’t deviate much from your usual diet that has served you well through your build up. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, rich in basic nutrients. Drink plenty of water and add some electrolyte or carbohydrate powder in the last 2-4 days. Increasing the carbohydrate food intake without overdoing it in the last 2-3 days will also ensure your system is “topped up” prior to race day.
The week before the race, get to bed an hour earlier. Don’t eat too late the night before the race, especially if the race is an early start. Allow 2-3 hours before sleeping to let food digest well.
If you have been following your schedule, you should be on your taper phase now, with a greatly reduced volume of training in the last week. The taper is designed to leave you feeling fresh and ready to run on race day.
Don’t cram extra training Into the last week. It is generally acknowledged that in the last 2 weeks, extra training will have pretty much zero effect on race day performance, and will probably lead to you just being tired on race day and under-performing.
7. Mental preparation
Your body has to be prepared and fit, but so too does your mind.
Take a few minutes each day to just sit down and calm your self and visualise yourself at various points on the course, and also crossing that finish line. Divide the race into three stages. Think of relaxing in the early stages. Being able to focus a little more in the middle of the race while still trying to relax. The last third of the race can be all about hanging in there. Remember, and hold fast to the original idea or motivation, that led you to think doing this race was a “good idea”. You may need to tap into that seed idea when your body starts complaining in the last few miles.
8. Don’t try anything new
Resist the temptation to try anything new in the week before the race or on race day itself.
What has worked in training, and on your long runs, will work on race day.
9. Recovery starts when you cross the finish line.
Avoid the temptation to stop or sit down right away. Keep walking slowly for a few minutes to allow the body to unwind slowly after that big effort.
Have a protein recovery drink and bar / fruit / special favourite post-race snack in your post-race bag. Do eat and drink them in the 15 minutes after you have finished to help start the recovery process.
10. DON’T PANIC!
Everyone will have something going a bit pear-shaped in the last week, and most runners will have a little bad patch during the race.
Although you have spent weeks and months training for the big day, When all is said and done, it is just our “Serious Playtime”. Be grateful you actually made the start line able to enjoy race day. Strive for your goals, certainly, but keep things in perspective. Enjoy! Smile as you cross that finish line!