For those out there that are running Seattle’s hometown marathon, November 27th is sneaking up faster than expected. As of yesterday, you’re just four weeks out from the big day. While most of your training has been done and the hay is in the barn, so to speak, you need to execute a good taper to get the most out of what you’ve done so far. Here’s a quick week-by-week checklist to get you to race day in one piece and ready to run.
Race week – 3 (this week): This is your last big week of training, and for most of you, it’ll be the highest volume week of your training plan. Even though your legs are tired and achy, hang in there. Ten days from now you’ll be itching to run this much. This weekend features your last long run which is your “dress rehearsal” for the race itself. As much as you can, try to simulate race conditions. That means getting up early Sunday morning to run and, weather permitting, wear the gear you plan to wear on race day, right down to the shoes and socks. Take your race-day nutrition plan for a test-drive so you can find and fix any problems while there’s still time. If you don’t want to carry all your liquids, find places along your route to stash a bottle or two before you start your run. If you live near a portion of the course, do part of your long run on the same streets you’ll be running on race day. If that’s not possible, make sure to include some hills later in the run so you’ll be prepared for the climb through Madison Park right around mile 20.
Race week – 2: Ah, the first week of the taper. Let your legs relax and enjoy the reduced mileage, but don’t get too cocky. Even though this week’s long run is “only” 10-12 miles or so, it’s still long enough to be worthy of your respect. Use this run to fine tune any adjustments that you made to your nutrition strategy after last week’s long run. Now’s a good time to take a look at your last few long runs and re-evaluate your race goals based on those workouts. If it’s clear you’re not going to BQ, give yourself permission to start out at a more conservative pace. On the other hand, if you’ve been running a steady 8:30 pace on your 20-mile runs without breaking a sweat, then maybe you can afford to shoot for something more ambitious than the 4:30 finish you’d originally planned on.
Race week – 1: Almost there! Towards the end of this week race day weather forecasts will start popping up in the 10-day outlook. While it’s tempting to refresh that page every 10 minutes, don’t do it. It’s far enough out that the forecast is likely to change several times between now and race day, and there’s no use getting yourself all wound up over a horrible forecast that might not come to pass. (Although, it’s November in Seattle. If you live around here, you don’t need the forecast to tell you what the weather’s likely to be.) If you find yourself feeling antsy, include some race pace strides at the end of your runs to stretch your legs out. Resist the urge to add miles to your week if you’re feeling undertrained. At this point, there’s nothing you can do to improve your race day fitness, but there’s plenty you can do that will hurt it. Take a deep breath, stick to your plan, and tell yourself it will all be OK.
Race week: Finally, the big day is nearly upon you. Figure out your expo strategy: what day and time are you going to go? Are there any speakers you really want to see? Are you going to spend time shopping around or just do a quick in & out to pick up your packet? Now you can check the forecast to figure out what gear you’ll need for race day. Make plans for your pre-race dinner and figure out where you’re going to meet your friends and family after the race. Help your friends and family figure out a spectator strategy so you know exactly where to look for them. This is incredibly important, since odds are good you’ll see them before they see you. Make sure you get a good night’s sleep on Friday night just in case your nerves get the best of you the night before the race, and do a short and sweet shake-out run Saturday morning to remind yourself that you haven’t forgotten how. End with some strides at your goal pace to remind your legs what it should feel like.
Saturday night: Enjoy your pre-race dinner. Stay away from large amounts of fiber and try to get a good balance of carbs and lean protein. If you’ve found a meal that’s served you well before your weekend long runs, have the same thing now. There’s no reason to mess with success. Before going to bed, lay out everything you’ll need in the morning: gear, shoes, race bib, gear check bag, watch, etc. Check it twice. If it helps, put it all on to make sure nothing’s missing. Set your alarm for the morning. Check it twice. If you need to, set a second alarm and check that one twice. Try to get to bed at a decent hour, but convince yourself that everything’s ready to go before you turn in so you’re not bouncing in and out of bed with last-minute tasks. If you find yourself unable to sleep, read, watch TV or meditate so your body can get some rest even if you don’t.
Race day: Get up and have your well-tested pre-long run breakfast. Get dressed. Get to the start line nice and early so you have plenty of time to find and use the port-o-lets. Make conversation with your fellow runners and, most importantly, have fun. This is the day you’ve been working toward for the past several months, so take a quick moment to breathe it all in. Even if you’ve run marathons before – even if you’ve run this marathon before – each race is different, so be sure to soak up the atmosphere. Then, once the gun goes off? Go for it.