As a runner you have probably have spent a grueling 8-16 weeks training for your race. Depending on the distance of your race, this will determine the number of weeks you needed to prepare for your event. The shorter the race the fewer number of weeks is needed to devote to your training, whereas a runner preparing to run a marathon may spend as long as 4-6 months training for his/her event.
One very common concern for runners, especially those who have never raced in an event or who have yet to race a particular distance, is what to do to prepare for their race the week leading up to the pinnacle of their training.
I will preface by saying, it is very common to have some nerves and doubts leading up to your big event. But as I frequently tell my runners, know that you have done all you can do to prepare for your race. Trying to cram in too many runs prior to your big day, may leave you fatigued, or worse, injured. No amount of running the week of your race will prepare you for your race. Your goal is to arrive on the starting line with the freshest legs possible. No matter how experienced a runner is, even if you have raced the distance before, it is very common to question your training during this time. You may find yourself asking, "Did I do all I could in my training to prepare for this race? Did I do enough hill work, speed work and long runs? What do I do if it rains, sleets, snows or the temperature is too hot? What if I start out too fast?" The list can go on and on.
As I like to tell my new runners, 'you have done your homework; all you have to do now is take the test.' In other words, trust your training. You cannot make up for lost runs. You must accept where you are and use it as feedback following your race, after all this is what racing is all about--learning how your body responds to the stress of training. Just understand that every race is unique and as my former running coach Lee used to tell me, "You are only as good as you are on that particular day, at that particular time, on that particular course, under those particular circumstances."
So now that you have done your training, what are some steps you can take in the week leading up to your race to make it the best experience for you.
Continue to Follow Your Training Program
As I mentioned earlier, it isn't uncommon to approach your race week wishing you had more time. If you feel strong, feel free to continue following your training schedule, but know that it's OK to eliminate a run out of your schedule or cut a training run short this week--let your body be your guide as to how to prepare for your race. Remember the runs you do this week are to just keep your legs from feeling sluggish on race day. You do not gain any fitness benefits from these runs, but you have a lot to lose, in the form of race day fatigue and injury, if you choose to push your body too hard the week of your race.
The longer the race you plan to run, the longer the taper. However, the length of your taper also depends on how long you have been running. A seasoned runner who runs 20-30 miles a week will not have to worry about a taper before a 5K, 10K and for many times, even a 15K. His/her body has adapted to running higher mileage so the risk for fatigue and injury is low compared to a runner who has yet to race the distance.
Your taper is the time where you gradually cut back on your mileage in order to prepare the muscles and energy systems to race, especially for the longer more endurance runs. There are some in the running community who do not believe that anything short of a half-marathon requires a taper, however, if you have never raced a particular race, follow your training plan as it is designed and feel free to cut back your running miles even on your shorter races.
Just remember that for those running a half-marathon or greater, you may experience some restlessness and feel the need to keep busy. Now is not the time to clean your house, work in the yard and tackle the 'honey-do' list you have been putting off during your training. Once again you want to toe the starting line with fresh legs and energized, ready to race.
Nothing New Race Week
Now is not the time to try anything new. That includes running shoes, running attire, even your diet or re-fueling plan. Training is about practicing what to do come race day. In fact, you want to do a trial run in the attire you plan to wear come race day to rule out chaffing and/or blister issues.
Now is not the time to make that new recipe you have wanted to try or testing out that new pair of socks you just bought at the expo the day before. You want to stick with what you know and more importantly what you body knows.
Stay Hydrated Before Your Race
Hydration leading up to your race day is every bit as important as during the race itself. Just be certain that you do not over-hydrate. If your urine is completely clear you may be drinking too much, however the more amber colored your urine is the more fluids you will need to consume. Hydration is extremely important, especially when temperatures exceed 55 degrees. Remember you lose fluids not only through sweating, but breathing, digestion and urination as well.
Sleep Leading Up to Your Race
During your taper week(s) it isn't uncommon for you to feel a tad more restless. Your body is accustomed to running on a schedule, therefore when you cut back on your mileage your legs are ready to run and your glycogen stores loaded, but avoid the temptation to go out and pound the pavement. As I mentioned earlier, you gain nothing in fitness the week or two up to your race, but you have a lot to lose by pushing your body too hard.
One of the most common complaints I hear from runners, especially runners who are tackling a race distance for the first time, is their inability to sleep well the night before their race. I want to reassure you that this is a very common complaint. This is why it is very important that you get as much sleep and rest in the week(s) leading up to your race. Try to hit the hay early, even if you are just relaxing more than sleeping. If you don't sleep well the night before your race, don't panic. The race day adrenaline will kick in and you will find the energy you need to get through your race.
When I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2009 I only slept 3 hours the night before. I was so nervous that I would miss making it to the starting line that I could not relax and when I did finally fall asleep I slept for about an hour before I awakened. But I managed to do just fine and so will you.
Visualization: Picture Yourself Crossing the Finish Line
A few years ago my running coach encouraged me to use visualization as part of my training. Every night I was encouraged to picture myself running my race. I was to visualize the starting line, the course, the water stations and how I felt when fatigue would start to kick in and the measures I would take to resolve the issue, such as using my refueling products. As silly as this may sound, this tool has become a huge part of my training even 4 years later. What visualization does is it helps to keep us relaxed and ready to take on the challenge of running a race of a lifetime.
What to Eat
For those runners tackling a race shorter than a 15K, you should not have to worry about carbo loading pre-race. In fact some experts say anything short of a marathon does not require any added carbohydrate intake than what you are accustomed to eating. That being said, your training is the time to put into practice what you plan to do during your race week and subsequently on race day. Most runners require between 55-65% of their daily caloric intake from carbs. While some people may be fine with 50%, cutting back below this amount may lead to greater muscle fatigue and poor performance come race day.
A little secret my running coach taught me was to look ahead at the weather conditions when planning for your race. If you are accustomed to running in cooler temperatures, but your race is expected to take place in warmer conditions, you need to acclimate yourself to the conditions as best you can. This may be layering your running clothes to adapt to the heat or even taking your runs inside on the treadmill since most of us keep our home temperature between 68 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperatures are generally warmer than outside running. It takes approximately 2 weeks for your body to acclimate to running in warmer conditions.
If for any reason you do not have time to acclimate to warmer temperatures, remember that your pace per mile will probably be slower than it is under ideal running temperatures, which for most of us will be around 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
About two weeks out before a major race I will begin to review the temperature conditions in the area I am racing. I then check in on a daily basis. If the temperatures are unusually warm or cold or if the area is experiencing a wetter season this helps me prepare how to dress and hydrate come race day.
While we can't always foresee issues that may arise on race day, know that each race allows us an opportunity to learn how to prepare for future races. Remember, what works for one person may or may not work for you, which is why running logs and race day round-ups can help you determine what to do to prepare for your next race.
What race week measures do you take to prepare for your race? Have used any of the followed any of the guidelines mentioned above?
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