Winding Down - One Week To Go

Everything you need to know and do the week before your marathon


Posted: 16 April 2012
by Bob Cooper


« Two weeks to go

During the last week of your taper, things can get ugly. Two weeks ago, you ran 20 miles in a single run, but now you shouldn’t even be totalling that distance in the whole week before the race. And as your mileage plummets, your worries can skyrocket. But take comfort that thousands of other marathon runners preparing to race this coming weekend are going through exactly the same thing. And take refuge in your final mission: to ensure that your body is sufficiently fuelled, hydrated, refreshed and recovered for the task.

Training Checklist

  • Beginning on Monday, do no runs longer than four miles. And when you do head out, remember that these jaunts are more for your head than your body, because training has little effect this week.
  • Almost all running should be at one and a half to two minutes per mile slower than marathon goal pace - except a Tuesday two-miler at marathon goal pace, sandwiched by one-mile jogs. Again, if you want, throw in some quick 100-metre strides after one or two of your easy runs. This helps fight off the sluggish feeling that can occur during your taper.
  • Three days before the race, run just two to three miles easy.
  • Two days before the race, don’t run at all.
  • On the day before the race, jog two to four miles to take the edge off your pent-up energy so you’ll sleep better that night.

Mental Preparations

  • “Confidence should be the focus of the final week,” says Hays. “But you may still experience anxiety. If so, remind yourself that you’re physically prepared because you have done the necessary training, and you’re mentally prepared because you have done the necessary troubleshooting and goal-setting.”
  • Try to minimise job, relationship and travel stresses all week.
  • If you’re nervous about the race, try breathing exercises to relax. Breathe in and out as slowly and deeply as possible, letting your stomach expand as you inhale. Focus your attention on the breathing and any positive, calming image.
  • If you’re too super-charged with energy to sleep, try this relaxation exercise. First tense, then relax your muscles, one at a time, starting with the muscles in your face and working down to your toes. Sex can also help relax your mind and body.

Nutritional Needs

  • “Emphasise carbohydrates more than usual in the last three days before the race,” says Tichenal. About 60 to 70 per cent of your calories should come from carbohydrate sources. Pasta, potatoes, rice, cereals and fruit are healthy choices, but even fizzy drinks and sweets do the job. It all turns into muscle glycogen.
  • Wash all those carbs down with fluids so your energy and water levels are high on race morning. Alcoholic beverages don’t count towards your fluid totals, however, and you’ll need to make up for their diuretic effect by drinking extra fluids. You know you’re adequately hydrated if your urine is clear or pale yellow in colour.
  • Don’t restrict the salt in your diet. Low salt intake combined with excessive hydration can lead to hyponatraemia, a rare but dangerous condition that can afflict marathon runners. Drinking energy drinks and snacking on salted pretzels will keep your sodium levels up.
  • Don’t look at the scales. Because of your fully stocked fluid and fuel stores, you’re likely to gain a couple of pounds. But it’s worth the weight. Having your body’s energy reserves at full capacity will do more for your race than weighing a little less - and you’ll lose those pounds by the finish line anyway.
  • Don’t do anything tiring. Let the kids take the bins out. Let the dog walk himself.
  • Don’t try anything new. No new foods, drinks or sports.
  • Don’t cross-train, hike or bike.
  • Don’t get a sports massage unless it’s part of your routine. You may feel bruised afterwards if you’re not used to it.
  • Stay off your feet and catch up on sleep. Don’t stay long at the pre-race expo.
  • Remember: during this final week, you can’t under-do. You can only overdo.

The Final Hours

Feeling calm, confident and in control is your misson on race morning. Here's how to come by the three Cs:
  1. Be sure your race outfit, shoes, timing chip, number, bag and map to the start are set out the night before, so a treasure hunt isn't required in the morning.
  2. Eat a light, easily digestible meal, such as oatmeal or white toast and a banana, at least two hours before the start. Make sure you've eaten these foods before a few training runs with no adverse effects.
  3. Drink 250-450ml of energy drink 60 to 90 minutes before the race.
  4. Arrive at the start about an hour early, so you won't have to rush.
  5. Joke around with friends or fellow runners before the race to lighten your mood.
  6. About 25 minutes before the start do some walking, slow jogging, then a few 50-metre strides at race pace. Visit the portable toilets one last time. Check your post-race kit onto the baggage bus. Mentally review your race plan.
  7. Position yourself appropriately at the start according to your projected pace, and remind yourself to start gently! You'll be glad you did when later in the race you're able to pass all those runners who started too fast.

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Ask the Experts: Marathon Mental Strength Q&A with Dr Victor Thompson

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