Countdown to Race Day

The Big Sur Marathon is exactly seven days away – and if you’re a local runner preparing for the event, your main homework this week is very simple: don’t screw things up.

During the last several days before the race, you can’t do anything that’s going to improve your fitness level – so if the hay isn’t in the barn by now, there’s no sense working overtime trying to stock up.

On the other hand, if you taper wisely, you’ll arrive at the start line well rested and ready to roll. Tapering is a delicate balance between running, resting, and eating that allows your body to recover from all those weeks of hard training, and to stockpile your energy stores for the challenge of race day.

Different runners have different approaches to tapering, based on personal experience of what works best for them. However, there are some general guidelines that are almost universally agreed upon to help your chances of having a successful race.

Cut way back on mileage: During the last few days before the marathon, don’t do any runs of more than 3 miles. One sequence we often use during race week is to run 5 miles on Tuesday, 4 on Wednesday, 3 on Thursday, and 2 on Friday. Donald usually takes Saturday off, while Mike likes to take a short jog that day. It depends on how you feel.

Just remember, you can’t gain any fitness this week, so don’t worry about the number of miles. If you’d rather take any of these next six days completely off, that’s fine too. It’s better to be over-rested than overtrained.

Maintain the intensity: Since you are cutting back on your mileage, it’s OK to maintain a moderate intensity with these workouts. Try to run at least 2-3 miles of each workout at a speed that is close to your anticipated marathon pace, so your body stays 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. Remind yourself that you’ll get plenty of hills on race day.

Eliminate extra activities: Give yourself a break from any cross-training activities during race week. And even though you’ll have more free time, try to refrain from tackling a new landscaping or home repair project. The last thing you want on marathon day is to be sore (or worse, injured) from something you overexerted yourself on the week before.

Don’t pig out yet: Since you are running less and resting more, pay close attention to your diet now. It’s normal to gain a few pounds as your muscles stockpile the glycogen they will need during the race. But gaining too much weight will make you feel heavy and sluggish. Eat a bit less than usual, with well-balanced meals, right up until race day.

Most runners hear about carbo loading, and mistakenly think they should eat as much as possible the night before the race. Instead, your final dinner should just be a regular sized meal with a higher percentage of carbohydrates (like pasta, rice, or potatoes) 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. 26 miles is a long way to run with a stomach cramp.

If you can keep your diet somewhat restrained during race week, feel free to reward yourself with a huge feast afterwards, complete with as much dessert as you please. You’ll have earned it by then.

Cut your toenails: We don’t need to go into detail here … but do it 5 or 6 days before the race. Trust us on this one.

Choose your weapons: Decide now 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.

Be a recluse: It’s fairly common for runners to get minor illnesses while tapering, so stay away from sick people. Wash your hands after touching anybody. Avoid large groups of people in confined areas. Sleep in a separate room if your spouse is sick. A little bit of paranoia can be a healthy thing, if it helps you avoid having the sniffles on race morning.

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.

Good luck to everyone who is racing next Sunday. May the wind be at your back!

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