I'm in the final countdown for marathon number 5 which means full out taper madness. I am by no means a pro at this, even with 4 full marathons, several half marathons, countless mid-distance races and even a few triathlons under my belt, but I have certainly become much more comfortable and confident in the days leading up the the big event. Don't get me wrong, the nerves still can get the best of me, but fortunately not quite as bad as they did in the past. This of course, is thanks to experience as well as becoming more proficient at tapering. Having learned from my mistakes as well as kept what I found to have been successful, I am continually getting more and more relaxed and ready for the race rather than freaked out like I often did in the past. Although I do believe the tapering process will differ not just for every person but also for every race, there are definitely some key essentials that can be helpful for anyone in taper mode. So here are some things that continue to be helpful for me and hopefully for you and your next race as well.
1. Taper Cross Training Too
Regardless of your training program, one thing is certain, you will need to decrease your mileage and intensity in the last few weeks leading up to your big event. You do this to ensure you have fresh legs and are not over trained come race day. If you're like me and a big fan of hitting the weights, swimming, spinning, etc., you will want to apply these same principles to your cross training. Those last couple of weeks before your half or full marathon is not the time to max out or try a new intense workout routine. Your muscles need time to regenerate post workout and this can take several days. While your muscles are working hard to rebuild, you may experience soreness, feel tired and have decreased range of motion, all of which can effect your running from form to stamina. Now, I am a huge fan of going hard in the weight room and continue to do so all throughout marathon training. But as my event approaches, I start to scale back, especially with lower body exercises to ward off soreness as well as decrease the risk of injury. You certainly don't want to be insanely sore, or worse, hurt come race day!
2. Loosen Up
Being sore and tight on the day of your race can not only lead to sub par performance but can also hinder your recovery. Tight muscles often lead to weak muscles, so it is important that you are proactive about keeping your muscles loose and your joints limber. Foam rolling, dynamic stretching and yoga are staples in my marathon training, especially as race day approaches. Do not wait until you are stiff and sore to work out tight muscles, but sure to engage in some form of fascial release on a regular basis all throughout training and even more so as the race approaches. Investing in a foam roller is a great place to start, you can even do it in the comfort of your own home. It will also be your best friend post race when those muscles are pretty unhappy with you.
3. Eat All the Food (But Nothing New)
We have all heard about carb-loading and increasing your caloric intake leading up to the race. This can, however, be a little misleading. I've made the mistake in the past as seeing this as an opportunity to eat everything in sight to prepare for race day. Pizza, chips, beer, anything I figured could pre-fuel my body for the big event, I devoured. Yes, your body will need some additional carbs, salt and calories to run for that amount of time, but it will need it in a healthy way. Unhealthy, processed foods will give you extra calories and carbs, no doubt, but these foods lack the essential nutrients to support your race day needs. They can reek havoc on your digestive system, cause gastric issues and effect your energy levels. Be sure to stick with real, whole foods such as lean proteins, whole grains and fruits and vegetables. Increase your carb in take with good carbs such sweet potatoes, quinoa, oatmeal and bananas. Add a little extra salt (I prefer pink Himalayan salt) to your food the day or so before your race to help with electrolytes. And be sure to drink extra water, you will want to be well hydrated heading into the event. Also, the last few days leading to the race is not the time to introduce new foods into your diet. You do not want to risk any sort of reaction from new cuisine that can effect your body on race day!
4. Boost Your Immune System
It happens, I can attest to that. You put in months of training, you are ready to go out and crush your race and then BAM, you wake up under the weather! Sometimes it is just inevitable, we get a cold, or the flu or a stomach bug, etc. We have been putting our bodies through so much stress over the past few months that we end up being more susceptible to catching whatever may be "going around" as the saying goes. But just like stretching, you do not want to wait until it is a problem to do something about it. Be proactive when it comes to your immune system. Here are a couple of ways I like to help build up my immune system.
- Eating a clean healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds
- Catching some rays to get my Vitamin D (running outside is typically how I get them)
- Taking a regular probiotic
- Supplementing with immune boosters such as Elderberry and Echinacea
- Washing my hands and counter tops regularly
5. Bubble Wrap Yourself
As tempting as this may sound, it is obviously just not possible, hehe. But as a precautionary, it may not be a bad idea to refrain from any new activities as well as ones that you may be used to but could post a potential threat to your body. I know this may sound a little silly and actually pretty obvious, but it is a good reminder to not get too creative with your workouts and extracurricular activities right before your marathon. You will have plenty of time for adventures post race, so schedule your activities wisely beforehand. I guess your sky diving and swimming with the sharks will just have to wait a bit.
6. Visualize Your Success
Whether this your first long distance event that you're just hoping to finish within a certain time frame, or you have a done this before and have a major PR in mind, it is important to not only have a goal, but to visualize yourself accomplishing it. The saying goes "The body achieves what the mind believes." Your nerves will be all over the place leading up to the race. You don't want them to get the best of you so it is important to keep your eye on the prize. Having a strong mental game will not only keep those nerves at bay but will also be what you need to turn your dream into a reality. Close your eyes and visualize yourself crossing that finish line. What does it sound like? Who will be there? What does it feel like? Imagine all of those things leading up the race and focus on how great it will feel. Hold onto those feelings all throughout the race as well, especially when it becomes daunting, and trust me it will at times. But having that vision of what your own personal "victory" feels like will be what you need to get you through.
7. Get Some ZZZ's
Easier said that done, but very important. Sleep not only helps rest your body but your mind as well. When we lack sleep, and we are just not ourselves physically or mentally, it can effect everything from our mood to our immune system. All of which are important for being effective on race day. Finding time in our busy lives for some extra hours of sleep can be very tricky (especially if you're like me and have small children who stay wake periodically throughout the night). But what you can consider doing is going to be 15-30 minutes early each night the week or so leading up to the race, and try sleeping in a day or two as well. The extra minutes of sleep will add up to a few hours and will hopefully help you feel rested come race day.
8. Trust Your Training
You've spent the past several months of your life preparing for this one day. The early wake up calls, countless miles and hours of cross training. You've studied programs, read articles and talked to seasoned runners to gain knowledge, insight and motivation to do this. At this point, you have done all you can to prepare. You've done your miles, you put in the work, you are ready, whether you think you are not, you can and will do this. You just have to believe that and trust in yourself and your training. Committing to and training for a distance race is an accomplishment in itself. It takes a lot of dedication and sacrifice as well as stepping out of your comfort zone. You have done what you once thought to be impossible by simply signing up for the race and then tackling all the training that is involved to prepare for it. Knowing that you have already accomplished such an amazing feat before you even toe the line should give you the confidence to see you to the finish. When you start to doubt yourself before hand or even out on the course, think back to all the miles you have already done, all the long runs you have completed and how you have survived it all. You have done this before cumulatively in your training leading up to this event, and you can do it now on race day. Don't for a second doubt yourself and your abilities, you have come this far and it's time to go out and finish strong!
Good luck and happy running!