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Marathon Tapering Advice: The Week Before a Marathon

After I finish my last long run before a marathon, 2 weeks before I embark on my 26.2, I usually start to think about tapering.

The week before the marathon is very important. You can’t really do much to improve your fitness, but if you get the taper for a marathon wrong, you could sabotage everything you have worked so hard for in your marathon training.

Today I thought I would give you some marathon tapering advice, but not so much the drop in mileage, as there is plenty to read on that already, and I already have this for you to read if you doubt yourself before a race.

Today I wanted to talk about all the little things you can do in the week before a marathon to prepare for your best race.

The things that are often forgotten about in most marathon taper guides.

Below each section, I will show you how I am putting this into practice myself, and give you my marathon morning routine, which you can tweak to make your own.

Hopefully it helps you for your next big race!

Tapering 1 Week to 3 Days Before a Marathon

This is a good time to start getting up three hours before your race time.

If you are racing at 8am, yep, I would say for the week before you should get up at 5am.

Sorry! But how bad do you want to race well? 😉

If you can start your run at race time, that is even better.

If you are nervous before the marathon

Go to some pretty areas to run, remind yourself of why you do this, and just bring the joy back to running…..if you are anything like me, the last few weeks were kind of intense and stressful, so getting away from performance and instead enjoying the simplicity of running for the endorphin rush and hard work you have put in is just what we need.

But remember:

Don’t go anywhere that is dangerous.

When I say pretty places to run, technical trails with lots of opportunity to roll your ankle is just asking for trouble!

What to eat the week before a marathon

This is where carb loading begins, but that does not mean loading up on foods that you have not eaten in a year. When it comes to the week before marathon diet, you need to be safe above all things.

You can celebrate with whatever you like after the race, but your marathon taper nutrition with a week to go needs to be very similar to what you have been eating all along.

Lots of carbs from sources you eat regularly, switching out some of the fat, protein, and vegetable calories for carbs.

Notice I said that you just switch out the calories, that is one mistake runners often make. You do not need to eat extra, but just make the percentage of carbs higher.

Now:

There is no need to panic if you gain a little weight this week, you will burn it off during the race, and carbs hold in more water, so more carbs will mean more water weight.

Besides, would you rather run your best a few pounds heavier (which no one would even notice) or run it “light” but bonk at 20 miles?

I know what I would choose.

Stay away from the scale!

Get your loved ones to hide it for you.

Flying before a marathon?

When you travel, try to move as much as possible, and if you are flying, wear compression socks.

If you are driving, stop every few hours and go for a walk.

What do you do as an elite runner?

When I raced the California International Marathon, we flew out three days before the race. This meant a lot of eating out, but through careful planning, and looking ahead to restaurants that had food that was close to what I usually ate, we were able to keep my diet the same, and therefore keep the stomach upsets away.

Some of the carb loading sources I like to eat a lot of:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Regular potatoes
  • Bars (UCAN Peach Passion, Go Raw Protein Bars, Health Warrior Superfood Bars)
  • Bananas
  • Rice
  • Squash

When you are a week out, you do not need to be as particular, up to three days before, you can choose foods that are a little more fun, and remember to celebrate that you have made it through your marathon training schedule and to the race!

As my race was in California, I made sure to be awake by the time I race, but thanks to the time zone difference that was not really a problem. That week I tried to keep my usual getting up time, and ran at what was 7am PST for the entire week (10am EST) to make sure my body was ready to race at that time for this California Marathon.

Tapering 1 -3 Days Before a Marathon

You should be used to getting up at race time by this point, and now the focus really needs to be on staying as stress free and relaxed as you can be.

Spend lots of time chatting to your loved ones.

Many runners make the mistake of thinking they need to spend the time “in the zone” or focusing on the race, but actually, at this point, I find that is the worst thing for us to do.

Instead, try to get friends to come meet you, at a nearby coffee shop, or at your house. Celebrate the time with friends and family, and remind yourself of why this race does not define who you are.

Running the week of a marathon

When it comes to your runs, these should be so slow you can’t even hear yourself breathe. I am talking a 1 on the scale of easy to hard!

If you feel crappy, don’t panic, it’s the taper, you are supposed to feel like that. Read this if you are doubting yourself in the few days before a race.

We all have moments of believing that we cannot possibly cover 26.2 miles in the time that we hope to (or others say we can), but remember, it is completely normal to feel this way, and if you are smart with the race, you will be fine.

I would recommend 2-4 strides after one of those runs, they should feel good.

Resting before a marathon

Make sure you are getting enough sleep, we all know we don’t sleep the night before a race (and don’t worry, that doesn’t affect your race!), but these nights, you should be going to bed early enough to get 8 hours (especially with your early wake up time to practice!).

This is where your really have to start resting, but not too much.

If for your daily life you are on your feet 15 hours a day, and you suddenly turn into a couch potato who orders people to get you food as you are resting, your body will probably not handle it very well.

Rest a lot, but every few hours try to stretch out your legs and walk to a coffee shop for a drink, a short walk around the mall, or just around the block.

What to eat 3 days to 12 hours before a marathon

Continue to eat those foods you are used to, but as it gets closer, remove more of the vegetable and fruit calories, protein and fat calories for carbs, and make them “safe” carbs.

Things you KNOW sit well in your stomach.

If that means being awkward and asking for “no cheese” on your sandwich as you know daily upsets your stomach, but you have to wait an extra 5 minutes, DO IT!

Now, this is important:

Have your biggest meal, you know, the one we all look forward to stuffing ourselves without any guilt?

Yeah, that one. Have it either for lunch, or for an early dinner.

DO NOT go for that meal at 7pm at night! You are just asking for trouble!

You should also be drinking a lot of water.

No, not entire bottles every 3 hours, but just little and often throughout the day.

As I mentioned, it is important for a marathon tapering plan that there is a lot of resting, but also walking around and exploring the area in short bursts with sit down breaks in between.

Before I leave for a marathon, we make sure we have researched the restaurants to eat at during this time that suit the diet Steve and I live on. That way it removes a stress of what to eat, and you can avoid walking around extra trying to find somewhere that works for you.

Oh, and you know what else will continue during this time?

Eating my sweets! I will be having something sweet every evening even at this point.

Why?

Because I had them every day during the build up, so why would I remove them now?

Full disclosure: At this time I usually take 2 Benadryl each night to knock me out at night. I know I don’t sleep much the night before, but if I know the two days before that were good sleeps, then I feel much more confident.

Tapering The Night Before a Marathon

Try to go to dinner early.

Book a restaurant you know you can trust for 3, 4 or 5pm (you will be up early to eat again!), and then go for a short walk afterwards.

If you can find a restaurant around a 1/2 mile walk from your hotel, that is ideal, as you can walk home to keep your legs moving and move some of that food down a little if you overdid it.

Get to your hotel by early evening, so you can relax and just hang out with your loved ones.

Try to create a relaxing environment (no action movies), and just chill. You are still resting and preparing at this point.

If you need another snack before bed, by all means have it, but just make sure it is something you know sits well.

Put in some earplugs and an eye mask, and get into bed with about 9 hours to go

Accept that you are probably not going to sleep, and you are fine with it.

A lack of sleep the night before will not affect your performance, and you are still lying still, so you are resting, even though it might not feel like you are.

Sometimes, I find that I do actually sleep well, as I have just accepted it, so I can relax.

My pre-race meal is a baked potato, so keep it simple and find either a Jason’s Deli for a GIANT baked potato (or even two) or a McAlisters Deli around 4pm the day before. As long as I can find a baked potato, that is what I have practiced with as my meal before a marathon, and that is what I will stick to….even if I have to go to purchase a potato and get someone to bake it for me!

We will have some kind of elite meeting the night before where I drop off my bottles filled with UCAN Superstarch and EnduroPacks Liquid Electrolytes , and then after this, I will head to my hotel room and relax.

Although elite runners get to have their accommodation covered, it usually means we have a roommate, so in this situation, I hope they have the same idea in mind as me!

If the race were at 7am, I would be getting up at 4am the morning of the race. This means going to bed probably around 8pm, although like I said, you have to accept you are probably not going to sleep!

Last Minute Marathon Tips: Marathon Day

Wake up at least 3 hours before race time and start to move around, sipping water all morning.

Listen to music if you find that is comforting, for me, I do not care so much for music, I would rather talk to my loved ones to stay calm 🙂

Eat your morning of the marathon breakfast and drink your coffee/tea just like you have practiced to do so, and then try to relax for a little while.

Visualize the day, and know that it is going to hurt, but you are going to make it to the finish line with a smile after the journey you have been on.

Talk to your loved ones, and have them encourage you, tell them that you are nervous, and most likely, they will remind you that they will love you no matter what, and remind you that you are so much more than a runner. I find talking to others helps reassure me that this is not a life or death situation!

Getting to the marathon start area

Head to the start area with plenty of time.

It is better to get there a little early than be panicking that you are not going to make it, even if that means going to hang out in a McDonalds close to the start area for a little while.

Take a set of warm clothes with you that you are going to throw away on the start line.

It is best if they are easy to remove (zippers on the side of the pants or very loose to be able to pull over your shoes).

Put those on over your race outfit, but under your warm layers. Once you give your clothes to the gear check, keep the warm layer on till the very last second.

Going to the bathroom before a marathon

Find a bathroom with PLENTY of time.

If you get there early, go straight to the bathroom, and spend a good 10 minutes in there just relaxing and….well….getting as much out as you can.

If for some reason you are having trouble, try to get another hot drink (preferably one you know that sits well in your stomach- this is NOT a time for hot chocolate), I would stick to a tea. This should get things moving.

If you are still unable to go, just try not to worry. before I ran my 2:41 in the London marathon, I could not go AT ALL that morning, and I was so scared I was going to need it during the race, but I didn’t.

Stress about it for a little while, but then just try to let it go, and accept that it will be okay…..worst comes to worst, there are portable bathrooms along the course!

If you do a warm up, jog 5-10 minutes VERY easy.

I often use this time to run to a bathroom a little farther away, so I can go in peace without standing in line!

As I mentioned, I wake up around 3 hours before the race, making sure to move around the hotel room a little, or even down to the lobby if my roommate wants to sleep a little more, sipping water with EnduroPacks Liquid Electrolytes in it.

Immediately upon waking up, I eat my sweet potato, almond butter, and banana with a tea.

I like to drink my coffee at 5am and most then spend a good chunk of the next hour in the bathroom 😉

I talk to Evie (my sports psychologist) and my parents at some point during this time, which helps me to be confident, and know I am loved, no matter what.

I like to get to the starting area with about 90 minutes to go, BUT I often have an elite tent to stay nice and warm in (sorry, guys!), and then talk to Steve about the plan for the marathon.

In this way I am very lucky, but I make sure to go directly to the bathroom once we arrive, as standing in line is still an issue!

With around 45 minutes to go, I go for a 5-10 minute VERY SLOW jog.

Once I get back, I will change into my Saucony Fastwitch, remove some of my layers, and put on my compression socks.

I tuck Run Gum into my sports bra (with the edges trimmed so it doesn’t chafe!), and tuck a gel into my Saucony Bullet shorts just in case I need it.

Say goodbye to Steve, listen to any last-minute words of advice he has for me, and then think about the plan for the day:

It is only a race, it does not define who you are. All you can do is your best. Be kind to yourself.

As you can see, for me, it is mostly about bringing myself down a level.

Removing the pressure from myself as I know I will do my best, and I know I am good at judging my pace if I listen to my gut.

Final marathon day tips: as you approach the start line

Be confident.

Remember, you have worked so hard for this. You have given up so much for this, and YOU are ready.

Stand in a confident pose (I like to put my hands on my hips, narrow my eyes and look ahead), and say to yourself something like “I got this” or “I am ready”.

Whatever comes to your mind, but make it be confident, and repeat it over and over. A mantra if you have one is ideal here.

Yes, you are probably nervous, but look around, so is every single person out there.

You know it is going to hurt, you know there are going to be dark times, but you also know that you are STRONG, and you did not do all this work for nothing.

You WILL make it to the other side, it is just running, just putting one foot in front of the other, and at times, that is all you can do, but most of all, remember this:

Be kind to yourself.

You are doing this because you enjoy it, and even though moments will be tough, as long as you are doing the best you can for that particular moment, that is all you can ask.

And you are doing a heck of a lot more than anyone else who is sitting on the couch.

So trust in yourself, and be calm and confident.

After this, I would probably take a second to go over your race plan in your head, that it is SUPPOSED to feel easy at the start. After you have revved yourself up there, step back, come out of your confidence pose, and put yourself in a smart, management role.

Assess how you are going to complete the task at hand, and almost bring yourself down a notch. Take that energy away and put it in your pocket for later.

You HAVE to manage this marathon correctly if you are going to run your best, and that will mean going slower than you think you need to those first few miles.

If you can run without looking at your watch, I encourage you to do so.

Fight the urge to look at your pace, other than those first few miles to make sure you are not going too fast.

As you step over the line, make sure to smile.

This is the best part, the part you worked so hard for.

As my buddy (okay, so he’s not my buddy, but I met him), Brian from Backstreet Boys says; show em what you’re made of.

How does your pre-race build up differ?

How to Prepare the Week before a Marathon

The final week before a marathon can be exciting! Months of training and hard work have prepared you for your marathon (or half marathon). You’ve done the long runs, completed the workouts and are almost through the taper.

If this is your first marathon, you’re probably feeling excited, nervous, and a little apprehensive. If you’ve run the distance before, you’re probably feeling excited, nervous, and a little apprehensive. The marathon does that to you – beginners and seasoned pros alike.

In my final week of preparation for my fourth marathon, I surveyed my running buddies to gain valuable insights from their dozens of collective marathons. Here are some tips for your final race week preparations:

Relax

One of the best things you can do right now is chill. Assuming you’ve worked hard and followed a good plan, this week is about rest and short easy runs to stay loose.

Sleep

Obviously runners attempting a marathon need more sleep. I have found (anecdotally) that your most important night’s sleep could be 2-3 nights before the marathon, so stockpile! If you can’t sleep the night before the race because of nerves, don’t worry.

Eat Smart

You’re probably used to eating whatever you want during training. Lay off that second dinner or late night snack this week, no need to gorge yourself. Also, avoid high fiber foods or anything fried. Only eat predictable foods that won’t upset your digestive system!

Carry a Water Bottle

Sip on water during the day and monitor your pee to stay hydrated. Seriously. Urine too yellow? Drink more. Crystal clear? Back off. You’re looking for a lemonade shade.

Get off your Feet

Now isn’t the time to tackle that home project or explore a new hiking route. Go about your normal routine, but get off your feet whenever possible. Run according to your training plan taper and relax.

Study the Course

If you live locally, you’ve hopefully been able to run at least part of the race course. If not, try to study the map provided by the race organization. Better yet, run, bike, or drive portions of the course; It will be helpful to know the location of the hills, aid stations, and porta potties during the race.

Plan your Race Strategy

Do you plan to hold one pace during the race or run the second half faster? Negative splits? Planning to get paced by a pacer? Regardless, rehearse your race plan in your mind, monitor how you’re feeling on race day, and adjust accordingly.

Plan Race Day Logistics

Plan the following now:

  • Pre and post race transportation – It’s hectic at the start, how will you get to and from the race?
  • Sweats check and post race bag – Consider what you’ll want immediately before and after your race.
  • Help friends and family pick spots to cheer – Let them know where you’ll likely need a friendly face and help them navigate the course.

Try Nothing New

Race week isn’t the time to try new shoes, a new hydration strategy or a new racing shirt purchased at the expo. If it hasn’t been tested through the rigors of your training (from gear to food), don’t change.

Reflect

A successful training cycle might be more difficult than the actual race. Races can go quickly (as grueling as they are). Different moments from your training will become part of your total marathon memory.

Whatever your goals, whatever the outcome, you’ve worked hard to get here. Do your best, don’t quit, and take pride knowing you’ve done something difficult.

What to Do the Week Before a Race

It’s perfectly normal to experience a wide range of emotions the week before a race of any distance, whether it’s 3.1 miles or 26.2. Excitement, anxiety, even dread can sweep over you in those final days.

Harboring all that nervous energy simply means you care about having a good day, whether your race goal is just to finish or to run a faster time. The best way to counter those jitters is to have a plan for each day that will prepare your body—and ease your mind. For more on how to prep on the big day, read How to Run Your Best Race Ever.

More: 10 Race-Day Tips to Remember

Monday

Walk or cross-train for 30 to 60 minutes. Run or drive the course, or review a map of it online. Familiarizing yourself with the hills, turns, and final stretch helps you plan your strategy.

Tuesday

Run easy for 30 minutes. Do two to three one-minute accelerations to wake up your legs. Look through your running log to reaffirm your progress.

More: Reach Your Running Goal With Recovery Intervals

Wednesday

Spend 30 minutes cross-training to channel nervous energy. Organize logistics: Know how to get to the event, when to arrive, and where to park.

Thursday

Run for 30 minutes and visualize running strong to the finish. Surf YouTube for past Olympic races. Read motivational runners’ stories. Watching and reading about great athletes will further inspire you.

More: 3 Marathon Lessons From Olympian Kara Goucher

Friday

Walk for 30 minutes. Mentally rehearse your race-day plan: Visualize lining up, starting slowly, and using your run/walk strategy from the beginning.

Saturday

Go for a 20-minute walk, then chill out. Get organized: Set your alarm; lay out your running gear, fluid, and snacks; pin the bib number; lace the timing chip; and prep your breakfast. If you’re not sure how much fuel you need the night before, read the Truth About Carbo-Loading.

Race Day

Warm up by walking to the starting line and spend the first mile of the race easing into your pace. Remember to look around and soak up the good vibes, and avoid these Top Race Day Mistakes!

More: 5 Easy Ways to Run Better on Race Day

Sign up for your next race.

Tapering is one of the most important parts of any marathon training plan, but in many cases, it’s also one of the hardest to implement. Runners tend to fear cutting back on training, since they believe doing so will hurt their performance right before their big race.

But the truth is, reducing mileage is important not only to allow for full recovery before your race, but also to allow you to reach peak performance in it, too.

Most marathon plans tend to follow the three-week taper, meaning you’ll be running less and recovering more during those final 21 days. And for some runners, that just sounds counterintuitive. But if you skip the taper, you might just be setting yourself up for some problems, both in the race and for recovery down the line. Here’s everything you need to know about how—and why—to taper before a marathon.

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The Benefits of Tapering Before a Marathon

“So many runners train hard right up to the day of the marathon because they’re desperately afraid of losing fitness if they don’t,” says Patti Finke, who coaches 250 marathoners a year as co-director of the Portland (Oregon) Marathon Clinic. “What they don’t realize is that in those last few weeks, it’s the rest more than the work that makes you strong. And you don’t lose fitness in three weeks of tapering. In fact, studies show that your aerobic capacity, the best gauge of fitness, doesn’t change at all.”

Research supports the tapering aspect of these training plans. A review of 50 studies on tapering published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones—all depleted by high mileage—return to optimal ranges during a taper. The muscle damage that occurs during sustained training is also repaired.

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And if that isn’t enough, immune function and muscle strength improve, as well, which reduces the odds you’ll catch a cold or get injured just before the race. And get this: The average performance improvement by the subjects who tapered in these studies was 3 percent. That works out to five to 10 minutes in a marathon.

The review’s main conclusion? “The primary aim of the taper should be to minimize accumulated fatigue, rather than to attain additional physiological adaptations or fitness gains.” In other words, it’s time to chill.

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How to Taper Before a Marathon

The following plan shows you exactly how to modify your running and eating in those three crucial weeks before you toe the line. So relax. We’ve got you covered.

How to Prepare in Week 1 of Your Taper

Week 1 of the taper begins the day after your last long run of about 20 miles, three weeks before the marathon. The taper starts gradually, because this training still “counts,” and a dramatic drop in workload isn’t necessary yet.

The week before should have been your highest-mileage week. This week, stick with the same basic running schedule you’ve been following, just decrease your total mileage from last week by at least 20 percent. You should also avoid running extremely hilly courses, hill repetitions, or speed workouts, which can cause the kind of muscle tissue-damage you want to minimize during your taper.

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Your shorter weekday runs shouldn’t be much different than last week’s, but shave a mile or two off your longer midweek runs. Generally, weekday training should consist of one medium long run of eight to 10 miles, one marathon-goal-pace run of four to six miles, one non-running day, and two runs of three to five miles.

Your weekend long run at the first week of your taper (two weeks before the marathon) should be a 12- to 14-miler at the same pace—not faster—as the previous week’s 20-miler.

Except for your marathon-goal-pace run, all running this week should be at a relaxed pace of one and half to two minutes slower per mile than marathon goal pace.

As for nutrition? Make protein a priority.

“Take in a lot of protein this week to aid in the repair and recovery of muscle tissue damaged during the high-mileage phase of marathon training,” says Alan Tichenal, Ph.D., a University of Hawaii sports nutritionist and 20-time finisher of the Honolulu Marathon. Shoot for 75 to 100 grams of protein per day. If you don’t eat meat, fill up on protein from eggs, beans, dairy, and soy products.

To strengthen your immune defenses and possibly prevent a cold or flu, load up on Vitamin C. Kiwis, orange juice, red bell peppers, broccoli, and strawberries are the most potent food sources. The amino acid lysine can also help too. Wheat germ or a 500-milligram supplement are the best vegetarian options.

How to Prepare in Week 2 of Your Taper

Week two is a transitional period. You’re halfway between the agony of your last 20-miler and the ecstasy of the marathon. Rest truly replaces training as the most important element of your race preparations, and race strategizing takes on increasing importance.

Your mileage this week should be about half to two-thirds the amount you ran during your highest mileage week. Almost all your running should be slow—about one and a half to two minutes slower than marathon goal pace—except for a two mile run in the middle of a midweek four-miler at marathon goal pace.

“Even this small amount of goal-pace running is important because it physically and mentally reinforces the pace you want to run on race day,” says Finke. “This follows the rule of specificity—simulating as closely as possible what you hope to do in competition.” It’s also fine to throw in a few 100-meter strides after one or two workouts just to help you stay smooth and loose.

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Your weekday short runs should not exceed four miles, and your longest weekday run should be between six to 10 miles. Your weekend long run—one week before the marathon—should be eight to 10 miles. Any longer and your muscles may not be able to fully rebound before the race. Plus, if you’ve been lifting weights during your training, you should stop during this week.

While your mileage may be dwindling, you need to keep those calories coming in. Your body still needs to repair tissue damaged during your mileage build-up. “This is no time to diet,” says Tichenal.

Even though you’re running less, resist the temptation to cut way back on fat. A reasonable proportion of dietary fat (30 percent of your daily calories) is beneficial because it can be accessed as a backup energy source when stored carbs are used up.

Fat reserves can therefore postpone or prevent a race-day collision with the notorious “wall.” Just look for foods that are high in unsaturated fat, such as nuts or fish cooked in canola oil. Limit foods that are high in saturated fat and trans fats, such as pizza and ice cream.

How to Prepare in Week 3 of Your Taper

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-meter strides after one or two of your workouts. 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. Then, two days before the race, don’t run at all. On the day before the race, jog two miles to take the edge off your pent-up energy so you’ll sleep better that night.

As for nutrition? Follow this guide on how exactly you should carb load before a big race.

Wash all those carbs down with fluids so your energy and water levels are high on race morning. Alcoholic beverages don’t count toward 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 color.

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Don’t restrict the salt in your diet. Low salt intake combined with excessive hydration can lead to hyponatremia, a rare but dangerous condition that can afflict marathoners. Drinking sports drinks and snacking on salted popcorn and pretzels will help keep your sodium levels up.

The Taper: What to Keep in Mind the Week Before Your Marathon

The last week before the marathon is the most crucial time the taper. Now you put on the finishing touches.

Sunday

This is the last long run before the marathon, and its primary purpose is to give you a final boost of confidence.
Action: Run 10 to 12 miles at an easy pace. From here on in, reduce each run by at least one mile. It doesn’t really matter how long you run in these remaining days, as long as you don’t run any farther than your previous day’s workout.
Action: Run easy slower than your desired marathon pace for six miles or less. It’s a good idea to do one workout in which you take the pace up to marathon race pace or slightly quicker. This isn’t a speed workout. You simply want to run a few miles at a controlled, relaxed effort.
Action: Run one mile to warm up, then run 3 x 1 mile at marathon race pace or slightly faster. Cool down with one easy mile. If you’ve been supplementing your running with strength work or cross-training, it’s time to stop. You won’t get any stronger at this point, and your body needs to rest.
Action: Run easy for five miles or less.

Today’s run and any subsequent runs help to keep your muscles loose and remind your body that it has a job to do. Keep your runs easy and relaxed.
Action: Run easy for four miles or less.

Do something you enjoy, but don’t do anything out of the ordinary or anything that might get you hurt.
Action: Run very easy for three miles, or rest. Today you want to rest, relax and mentally prepare for the marathon. Focus on positive mental imagery see yourself running well and feeling strong.
Action: Do two to three miles very, very easy, or don’t run at all. Jog a few minutes to get the blood flowing through your legs, and stretch lightly. Shortly before the start, do no more than four strides at about 10K race pace. Your total marathon warm-up should not exceed one mile. Keep your legs loose by shaking them out while you wait for the gun.

3 Common Marathon Tapering Mistakes in the Last Three Weeks

A common saying among veteran and elite marathoners is that “the marathon taper schedule is harder than the training itself.”

When you’ve achieved a level of fitness where you’re no longer worried about your ability to complete the long runs, high mileage and daunting workouts, the thought of not training and losing fitness while following your marathon taper plan is scarier than any workout a coach can conjure up.

More importantly, the taper portion of a marathon training schedule is also the time when runners make the most costly mistakes.

Whether it be too little running, getting off a normal routine, or getting too worked up, it’s easy to ruin months of training during what should an relatively easy three weeks of training.

In this article, I am going to outline the three most common tapering mistakes I encounter when working with marathon runners in the final week before a marathon. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, it does represent some of the less obvious mistakes you might have read about in the past.

These mistakes can also be made by runners following a taper for the half marathon too.

3 Weeks Marathon Taper Plan: Don’t Rest Too Much!

The single biggest mistake I see in marathon tapers is that people over-taper in the last three weeks leading into the race.

This leads to feeling flat and sluggish on race day and increases the chance that you’ll come down with some type of sickness as your metabolism and immune system crash due to the sudden change in activity and demands on the body.

Ever notice that you feel slow, tired, heavy after you rest for a few days?

Don’t worry, its normal:

One reason I’ve found athletes to want to drop their mileage and/or intensity too much is that they don’t immediately feel good after a couple of extra easy days or a rest day.

Most runners expect immediate gratification and to suddenly feel a pep in their step with just a few easy days.

Keep in mind that it can take up 10-12 days to full absorb and recover from a hard workout. So, if your last hard long run was just last weekend, don’t expect to feel fresh for at least another week.

How should I taper 3 weeks before the marathon?

Most runners will find that reducing mileage to 80-90% of your max mileage will provide a sufficient respite from the training load without leaving you flat or sluggish.

For example, if your peak mileage was 60 miles, your mileage would drop to 48-54 miles for the week.

Likewise make sure you maintain some intensity throughout this week of training.

While your hardest workouts are definitely behind you, it’s important not to step off the gas pedal right away.

Usually, I recommend performing just one workout this week (mainly because I like to schedule the last hard long run the previous weekend and want to ensure recovery).

Here is a workout you could try:

2-3 mile warm up

8 mile tempo – first 4 miles at marathon pace, second 4 miles as fast as you can (usually half marathon pace).

2-3 mile cool down

This workout provides some practice with running at your goal marathon pace (which should feel pretty easy at this point in the training) and a chance to “blow out the tubes” and get in one more confidence boosting session.

With mostly marathon paced workouts left for training, it can be good for the confidence to run quickly and finish strong and fast.

2 Weeks Marathon Taper Plan: Run Marathon Pace Workouts

Perhaps the most detrimental marathon tapering mistake runners make is not keeping the workouts specific to the marathon in the last two weeks of the training cycle.

For example, I often see runners try to do short, speed-oriented workouts to build confidence, make them feel faster, or because the thought of long workouts when they are supposed to be tapering scares them.

Don’t make this mistake:

Runners love to do Yasso 800’s as a final race pace predictor, but you are risking your performance on race day by doing this.

Here’s why:

The problem with this approach is two-fold.

By performing a type of workout and using an energy system you haven’t been utilizing in the last four to six weeks, you actually fatigue your muscles more because your body isn’t conditioned to it.

It would be the same feeling as performing a set of heavy squats when you haven’t lifted in 4-6 weeks.

Second, one of the most critical components to race day success is being able to execute your race plan and run the correct pace, especially at the start of the race.

In the last two weeks, you should capitalize on the opportunity to practice marathon pace (if you are racing the Boston marathon, we have created a Boston marathon pace calculator).

Not only does this ensure you work the exact energy systems you need for race day, but it will provide that crucial, last minute pacing feedback you need to execute the perfect race plan.

How should I taper 2 weeks before the marathon?

I would recommend doing two workouts in this week.

The first is a longer, straight marathon paced run, usually a 6-8 mile tempo, depending on the normal weekly training volume.

When?

This workout usually occurs 10 days out from race day to ensure maximum recovery even though marathon pace should feel pretty moderate at this point.

The second workout is a broken marathon paced run, usually 2 x 3 miles at marathon pace with 3 minute rest.

Again, this workout will help you solidify race pace, but the 3 minute rest ensures that it’s not a hard effort.

Week of the Marathon Taper Plan: Don’t Worry About Gaining Weight!

The last week of marathon training is definitely the most difficult mentally.

No matter how hard you’ve trained or how many miles you’ve run, you’re going to fear that you can’t run 26.2 miles, never mind 26.2 miles at your goal marathon pace.

Trust me, even elites who averaged 150 miles per week and put in some crazy workouts have this fear!

However, a less obvious fear that almost all runners encounter is putting on weight during the final week of tapering.

All runners have been told that they need to load up on carbohydrates and build their glycogen stores as race day approaches.

However, because you’re also significantly cutting your training volumes and intensities, this increased calorie intake is bound to pack on a few extra pounds or two.

It’s a conundrum, especially if you’ve been trying to lose weight the entire training cycle and because this is the time you want to feel light and nimble.

As a result, it’s a battle to get the glycogen you need without feeling like a the marshmallow man.

Typically, the desire to avoid weight gain wins the battle and glycogen stores don’t get maxed out.

Don’t risk your race!

How should I taper the week before the marathon?

First, remember that a little weight gain is ok.

Not only should you be storing extra fluids, which will tip the scale, but a full gas tank is much more important than a few pounds on race day.

Second, my recommendation is to change your eating eating habits so that you’re getting in the energy and calories you need without feeling stuffed.

Graze on healthy snacks, such as root vegetables and high-quality carbohydrates (oatmeal and whole grains for example) throughout the day.

Also, keep your meals to under 600-700 calories, especially in the last two days before the race.

Grazing and keeping your main meals small will help ensure that the calories are stored as glycogen, not fat.

RunnersConnect Insider Bonus

Download your FREE Marathon Nutrition During Your Taper Guide inside your Insider Members area.

The guide contains a plan of exactly what you should be eating in the 5 days to 3 hours before your race. We give specific food recommendations to make sure you are ready on race day.

Not a RunnersConnect Insider member? It’s FREE to join.

Here are two complimentary marathon taper nutrition articles:

6 Nutrition Tips for the Perfect Marathon Taper

Nutrition During the Marathon Taper

As your big race day approaches, consider these three tapering mistakes gleaned from years of coaching marathon runners and make sure you don’t fall victim to the same pitfalls in the last three weeks of your training plan.

Read all about Gels for marathon training.

A version of this post originally appeared at competitor.com

Getting your taper right is a significant factor in achieving a good performance. Too much running in the last week will leave you tired, rather than recovered, and not fully reaping the benefits of your training. But some running is needed to keep your legs ticking over and stop you feeling flat on race day.

How much should you run in the week before a marathon?

Just how much will be partly dependent on how much running you normally do. A general rule is to run approximately one third of your usual volume but, of course, the type and amount you do on each particular day of the last week is important.

Tapering is a very individual thing, and different tapers work for different runners. Even many top elite athletes like to take one or two days off before a marathon. Experience and looking back at previous pleasing performances will help you find the taper strategy that works best for you. The following is a guide for a runner who usually trains most days of the week.

What should your running look like the week before a marathon?

Presuming your marathon is on a Sunday it’s good to do your last longish run (9-12 miles, at most) the Sunday before, having done a session with some pace within the two previous days.

On the Monday, try a short, easy run of around 5 miles, or rest.

On Tuesday or Wednesday, do some easy running and a mini interval session to keep your muscles firing, running the intervals a little quicker than race pace. Try 6 x 75 secs or 4-5 x 2 mins, with 90 seconds’ recovery between efforts.

On Thursday, try a short run of 3-4 miles. On Friday, rest or do a short run of 2-3 miles with perhaps 3-4 very easy strides.

Saturday should be a short run of 2-3 miles, or rest.

The week before

5 ways to avoid ruining your marathon the week before your race

The final week before a marathon can be a daunting experience for many runners, so we’ve collated a list of 5 ways to help make sure you’re prepared for running 26 miles & 385 yards (or 41.195km)…

Content

  1. The importance of sleep before a marathon
  2. How to carbo-load
  3. How much to drink
  4. How to taper for a marathon
  5. Plan properly and pace yourself
  6. Further Reading

When you get into the final week before your marathon the hard work should essentially already be in the bag.

Anything you get up to in those final days should be focused on allowing you to express your fitness level to the best of your current ability on the day, nothing more adventurous or ambitious than that. Let’s face it, miraculous improvements in your raw ability are highly unlikely to materialise in the last week.

But, there are plenty of pitfalls that can be avoided to ensure you do get to the start line in solid shape and with the best chance of achieving the time you want.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts for those final days leading up to race day. They’re based on what science has to say on the subject, with a healthy dose of practical experience from myself and, more importantly, from noted marathon running experts Martin Yelling (Marathon Talk) and Mario Fraioli (The Morning Shakeout), who were kind enough to share some of their hard-won insights with me.

1) The importance of sleep before a marathon

Nerves, dodgy hotel beds, time zone changes and an unsociably early wake-up call are just a few of things that might disrupt things on the last night and most are pretty hard to control.

Instead of worrying about these factors, I’ve always advised focusing on getting a really solid couple of nights’ kip in 2-3 days out in order to ‘bank’ some sleep.

Mario Fraioli also agreed with this, saying “do what you can to stockpile sleep in the week or two leading up to your event, knowing that travel and/or nerves might prevent you from sleeping soundly the night or two before your race. Those one or two nights won’t have a huge effect on your race, if any at all, if you’re appropriately rested otherwise.”

I know that I’ve definitely experienced some shocking nights of sleep before big races in the past, yet still performed just fine on the day, probably in part due to not being too sleep deprived in the run up to the night before.

And there appears to be some scientific evidence to back this idea up. Proven ways to improve your sleep quality (not just applicable to the final days before a race) include:

  • Going to bed early enough and at a regular time each night.
  • Keeping your bedroom dark and cool (~18-19 C / 65 F).
  • Avoiding using mobile devices immediately before bedtime and in bed itself.
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the 4 hours prior.
  • Reading a book before you crash out.

Image: via Pexels (copyright free)

If you really want the lowdown on sleep science Why We Sleep by noted scientist Matthew Walker is highly recommended, maybe even as bed-time reading…

2) How to carbo-load

Your body can store ~500g of glycogen (mainly in your muscles and liver) and this is a critical fuel tank that gets used up when running a marathon. When it runs out completely, ‘hitting the wall’ can be the unfortunate consequence.

Most early protocols for carbo-loading were based on the work of a Swedish researcher called Gunvar Ahlborg. His advice included a “depletion phase” a few days before a race, where dietary carbohydrates were cut back and long runs were done on water alone to empty your tanks. Once you had really bottomed out of glycogen (and were presumably feeling like death incarnate and were falling out with everyone around you due to low blood sugar levels…) you went on a pasta and bread binge to re-stock and ‘super compensate’ with extra high glyocgen stores in time for the race.

More recent research has cast doubt over whether this “depletion phase” is truly beneficial, mainly given the drawbacks of feeling like crap for 2-3 days before a race. The consensus nowadays definitely leans more towards the idea that simply increasing your overall carbohydrate intake in the days leading up to a race is more than adequate for most athletes.

You should be tapering down your training in the final week and therefore using up less stored glycogen anyway, so a single extra serving of carbs with most main meals in the final 48 hours ought to be enough to make sure you toe the line topped up, but not bloated and excessively heavy.

“Don’t try to win the pasta party” is how Virgin Money London Marathon running coach Martin Yelling put it, citing the all-too-common trend for athletes to go a little bit crazy with overeating at the pre-race banquet, especially if it’s an ‘all you can eat’ buffet!

If you know that you struggle with pre-race meals, then making sure you have a carbohydrate-based main evening meal on both of the two evenings before is a very sensible plan.

A secondary benefit to carb-loading – other than the effect it can have on stored energy levels – is that, for every molecule of glycogen you retain, 1-3 molecules of water are also held in the body. There’s a plausible theory that once you start to burn through your glycogen stores, the water is released and becomes useful to your body to offset your sweat losses. So carbo loading can also indirectly help your hydration status on race day.

Image: Engin Akyurt via Pexels (copyright free)

3) How much to drink

You’re going to sweat a lot running a marathon – even in moderate temperatures – so starting optimally hydrated is very important.

However – unlike with muscle glycogen – there’s a very limited amount of ‘extra’ water you can hold onto over and above what’s normally in your body on a daily basis.

So, whilst increasing fluid intake in the final few days is a good idea to an extent, if you find yourself peeing crystal clear urine and visiting the toilet a lot, it could well be that you’re over doing it. Over drinking can potentially be bad news for performance and health, and a nasty condition called hyponatremia can be the ultimate consequence.

One viable tactic that can work really well before a marathon to increase your hydration levels is something called “sodium preloading”. I’ve written about how to start hydrated and why that’s important in more detail before but, in short, it involves taking in some extra sodium in the final 24 hours before your race. This is what our 1,500mg electrolyte supplements were primarily designed for.

This helps your body retain more water in your bloodstream and top up your tanks before the start. It’s especially useful for those with a higher sweat rate, for crampers, for older athletes and for anyone competing in hot or humid conditions. For some personalised hydration advice on what, when and how much to drink before, during and after a marathon, take our free online Sweat Test.

We used this tactic a few years ago with Mike Ellicock, whom I helped to pace to a marathon world record whilst carrying a 40lb (18kg) military-style backpack. He ran 3 hours 25 minutes and change – an impressive effort with that kind of weight on your back! Preloading is something lots of our athletes have success with and it helped Mike to drink less than he otherwise would have needed to on the day and meant he was still in good shape when we met Richard Branson at the finish line…

Congrats to Cranfield MBA alum @mikeNatNumeracy who set new #gwrrecord at #vlm2013 +40lb in 3.25.21 pic.twitter.com/uD38XHcvFz @richardbranson

— Sarah Willingham (@sarahwillers) April 22, 2013

4) How to taper for a marathon

Getting to race day feeling rested, relaxed and 100% ready is often an art as much as it is a science.

Every athlete and – to a degree – every race build-up is different, so a high degree of individualisation comes into planning your pre-marathon taper. Which makes the topic beyond the scope of this blog, but I’ll give you my high-level take on tapering…

The starting point of most traditional tapering strategies encompass the fairly universal themes of reducing training volume – sometimes quite dramatically – whilst maintaining (or even increasing) the intensity of key runs in the last week or two.

Mario’s advice is to “keep the rhythm of your workouts leading up to race day. Remember, there’s no appreciable fitness to gain in the 10-14 days before your event, so no need to do a huge session that’ll take you half a week to recover from. But the body craves consistency, so try and do an abbreviated version of your normal workout(s)”.

This is to try to reduce residual fatigue – often a by-product of higher volume training – whilst preventing a significant drop-off in fitness and avoiding the feeling of stale/soggy legs that can occur if you back off too much or too soon.

Doing some faster sessions in the final days stimulates your cardiovascular and energy systems whilst also keeping an adequate amount of ‘tension’ in your muscles so that they’re responsive and lively on race day and, as a general rule, all of that makes a lot of sense to me.

In the final week before a race I personally feel that one of the most important things is to try to think confidently, no matter how you actually feel and NOT try to test yourself to check how you’re going.

Martin Yelling agrees 100% with this, saying that you shouldn’t panic in the last week and go out to try to reassure yourself of your fitness level by pushing too hard and clocking impressive times that only you’ll ever see.

Believe in the work you’ve done and in your ability to pull it out of the bag on the big day and you won’t run the risk of over-tiring yourself, or picking up a niggling injury by leaving your best miles out on the roads immediately before race day.

Tapering is a meaty topic and we’ve got five top tips for tapering

5) Plan properly and pace yourself

Martin Yelling is a big advocate of a “no surprises” approach to the immediate run up to a marathon and, interestingly, Mario used exactly the same phrase when I asked him what not to do during the final few days.

What I think they both mean by this is that you should definitely not start introducing new things – be it kit, food, drinks, training sessions or anything else that’s not tried and tested – in the final weeks before your race. And especially not on race day itself.

Martin cited the example of his wife Liz (a 2 x Olympian and 2 hour 28 minute marathon runner) going as far as taking her own rice cooker to events all over the world to make sure she had access to her preferred pre-race meal, no matter where she was!

Whilst this level of attention to detail might seem a bit excessive for most of us, simply pre-planning all of the major factors like what kit you’re going to wear and what foods and drinks you’ll use at least a month or so out from the event is a very good habit to get into. Mario summed this up by saying “Take confidence in your routine and knowing that you’re not doing anything that you haven’t done – and mastered – before.”

Ok, so now that you’ve prepared as well as you can for your race, here’s a bonus tip to help you avoid one of the common marathon pitfalls, bad pacing…

Image: Veri Ivanova via Unsplash (copyright free)

Pace judgement is a key skill for any endurance athlete to master, but it’s never more important than during a marathon.

“Very rarely do you ever hear a marathoner say, “I wish I had gone out a little bit faster”” is the fantastically succinct way Mario put his thoughts on the subject to me and I could not agree with this sentiment more.

The classic pacing error that many athletes fall foul of is, of course, going out too hard in the early miles and then paying the price with a big slowdown later on.

There are many reasons why this happens and understanding them is the first step to putting a plan in place to stop you from doing the same.

Firstly, there’s the fact that you’ll more than likely be feeling really good once the gun goes off on the day. If you got the taper right, you’ll have a lot of energy and this – coupled with the extra adrenaline that’ll be flowing through your veins – can dull your sense of effort dramatically. As a result, you can go off considerably faster than you’re likely to be able to sustain without noticing it.

The best antidote to this is to not only have a slightly conservative pacing plan for the early miles, but to tell yourself that it should definitely not feel like hard work in the first few minutes. If you’re feeling remotely like you’re pushing on to begin with, you’re probably really overcooking it.

Secondly, there can be a strong temptation to try to get to halfway a little bit ahead of your goal time to give yourself some room to slow down later on and still hit your target. Whilst this feels logical, it’s generally more productive to aim for an even split (i.e. the same time for both halves of the race) or even a negative split (running the first half a touch slower than the second).

Whilst world records and big race wins don’t always happen this way (sometimes to make a big breakthrough, or to defeat others, elite athletes have to ‘throw down’ and take some calculated risks with pacing), if you’re aiming to put out a ‘safe’ and solid PB then doing it in a conservative manner gives the best odds of success in most instances.

Enjoy your race and do let us know how you get on…

Further Reading

  • 4 tips for mastering water stations at a marathon
  • How to stay hydrated during a marathon
  • The London Marathon: A history
  • How to run 100 marathons in 3 years
  • Using London Marathon to perfect an IRONMAN run

What to Do the Week Before Your Marathon

Getty Images

The New York Marathon is upon us! I have trained, slept, eaten, and mentally prepped myself for that long jog I have ahead of me, and I am beyond excited to be running Sunday with Team USA Endurance, the official ING NYC Marathon team for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Although all my training is in the bag, what I have (and haven’t) been doing this week may be the most crucial thing to prepping for the big day. Tapering can be tricky, as wonderful as it is, so I asked Michelle Portalatin, an ITCA-certified triathlon training coach, to advise the best way to spend these days to maximize my race performance.

1. Run the same number of days you did during training, just decrease the distance. According to Portalatin, your total volume should be 30 percent of the average you did during a normal week of training. So if you were averaging 40 miles, the week before the marathon you should run 12 miles split among three runs such as 5, 4, and 3 miles.

2. It’s okay to do a short run the day before the marathon. You don’t have to completely cut off all activity in the couple days prior to the race. You can still run on the eve of your event, but keep it to 2 to 3 miles, Portalatin says. Most importantly, listen to your body. If you feel tired, rest. If you feel anxious, a short run good may make you feel better.

RELATED: 10 Strange But Effective Tips for a Better Marathon

3. Skip strength training. Your main focus during tapering is resting your muscles, allowing them to fully recover from all the training you have done and maximizing fuel and enzyme stores. Strength training does not allow for this. A better option is yoga, but be careful about the type. Don’t do anything too strenuous too close to the big day, and of course don’t try anything new that might cause injury.

4. Eat light, healthy, wholesome foods. You already should be avoiding sugary and fatty foods with empty calories. Now just consume fewer calories because you are running less, Portalatin says. By Thursday (if your race is on Sunday) be sure 60 percent of your meals are complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, potatoes, and rice.

5. Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. A good test to check your hydration is your urine color: Aim for a light yellow hue. But be sure not to over-drink. If your urine is clear, it can mean you are over-hydrated and can cause an imbalance in your electrolytes, Portalatin says.

6. Minimize alcohol. “One glass of wine or a beer during the week before will not ruin your race,” Portalatin says. “But everyone reacts differently to alcohol, so use your best judgement.” If you don’t want to jinx anything, it’s best to avoid drinking the week or at least the night before, and celebrate after you have crossed the finish line, she adds.

RELATED: Top 25 Marathon Training Tips

7. Aim for at least 8 hours of sleep a night. Anything extra is icing on the cake! Your body rests, recovers, and rebuilds the most when it is sleeping. Get to bed early all week and especially Friday night because the excitement over the marathon day will keep many people up Saturday night, Portalatin says.

  • By Heidi Pashman

The Last 7 Days Are Crucial to Running a PB on Race Day

Do you know the Ted Corbitt quote, “If you can’t run as fast as you want to, you haven’t rested enough?” There is a lot of truth to this saying. The main thing right before a race is recovery. Tapering refers to lowering your training volume and replenishing your energy stores. Plus, you should make sure to get plenty of sleep in the days leading up to the big race, and, if possible, try to schedule an easy week at work. And don’t forget to download the Runtastic Running & Fitness app so you have the perfect tool to track your training and race.

Many runners make the following mistakes during the last week of their race prep:

1. Training too much before the race

Many amateur runners think it is a good idea to train hard right up until the race, particularly in the last few weeks. But these efforts turn out to be counterproductive. Standing at the start feeling tired is pretty much a recipe for disaster. That’s why you should decrease your training volume by 30-50% of your normal mileage in the last week. In general, your training volume depends on your training age, your current performance level and the distance of the race.

2. Not working out at all

Tapering and reducing training volumes does not mean you should just put your feet up and stop working out. The tricky part about tapering is not to lose the fitness and pace endurance you have built up. The best way to avoid this is by reducing your mileage and focusing on short and intense workout sessions.

In the last week, it is important to get one more hard workout in four or five days before the race. This is designed to give your muscles one last training stimulus and to prepare your body for the demands of the upcoming race.

3. Strength training and unfamiliar exercises

In the last days before a race, you should avoid strength training and unfamiliar exercises. Fatigued and/or sore muscles can quickly endanger your desired time. Of course, you should continue to do stretching and mobilization exercises. But these are only a good idea if they have been regular part of your training for a while.

The last week before the race – Here’s how to do it right!

In general, the details of your workouts in the last week before the race depend heavily on your performance level, your training age, the distance of the race and the time you want to achieve.

We have put together the following lists to give you an idea of what your preparation might look like in the last seven days before the big race.

Six or seven days before the race

Slow long-distance run:

  • 5K: 30-45 min
  • 10K: 30-45 min
  • Half-marathon: 40-60 min
  • Marathon: 40-60 min

Four or five days before the race

Interval training:

  • 5K: 10 min warm-up jog / 5 x 3 min at 5K goal pace with 3 min jogging rest / 10 min cool-down jog
  • 10K: 10 min warm-up jog / 4 x 5 min at 10K goal pace with 3 min jogging rest in between / 10 min cool-down jog

Tempo run:

One or two days before the race

Slow long-distance run followed by accelerations (gradually increase your pace over a short distance of about 100 m until you reach a submaximal (90%) sprint):

Race day

So it’s time. You’re well-prepared, feel great and are ready to run a new PB. But many runners forget the most important factor for achieving their race goal: Improve your race performance by warming up properly before the start!

To get a more detailed idea of what your warm-up might look like for the different race distances (5K, 10K, half-marathon or marathon), check out our blog post on warming up properly.

Do you have a race coming up? We wish you good luck and a lot of fun.

***

Picture this: You’ve pounded the pavement for months, tracked every mile, and listened to your running playlist about a million times—but you’re still a tad panicked to bust out a full 26.2. As you’re in the home stretch of running a marathon, wouldn’t it be great if a group of elite experts gave you their veteran advice?

At ASICS’ perfectly timed “Run Your Best Marathon” panel discussion, that’s exactly what happened. Moderated by sports medicine physician and 34-time marathoner Jordan D. Metzl, MD, the pros talked about everything from hydrating the day before (salty broth does wonders, FYI) to preventing heavy legs in the lead up to the New York City Marathon.

“Relax, don’t sweat it. The best thing you can do for yourself is stop stressing and get some sleep.”

We captured all the need-to-know tips for you. Below, hear from sports nutritionist Lauren Antonucci, MS, RD, CCSD, the director of sports performance at the Hospital for Special Surgery, Polly de Mille, RN, RCEP, CSCS, and ASICS elite-level distance runner and Olympian Diego Estrada. Estrada’s top advice? “Relax, don’t sweat it. The best thing you can do for yourself is stop stressing and get some sleep.”

Scroll down for the experts’ answers to the most-pressing questions runners have leading up to a marathon—and shop ASICS’ latest collection of running shoes.

Photo: ASICS

To gel or not to gel?

When you traverse 26.2 miles on race day, you’ll need adequate long-distance fuel—which essentially means energy-gel packs (a gooey substance designed to replenish your body with calories, fast) and endurance sports drinks.

“You’re going 26.2 miles—in a row, non-stop—so your body needs carbs and salt,” Antonucci says, noting that they’ll be handing out gels at mile 18 of the NYC Marathon. While the cardinal rule of the sport is “nothing new on race day,” it may be worth taking a gel even if you haven’t had one before, she says.

Here’s why: You want to avoid hitting the wall—AKA, running out of glycogen. “Our bodies only store a certain amount of carbohydrates,” de Mille says. “It’s going to take you about 3,000 calories to run a marathon, roughly. Our bodies don’t store anywhere near that. It ranges from 1,200 to 2,000.”

So, the pros recommend sipping on an endurance sports drink, which is available at every mile after mile three at the NYC Marathon, and having a gel every 30 to 40 minutes.

Photo: ASICS

What should I eat during the week before (and morning of) the race?

Before a marathon, it’s important to get the right amount of fuel, according to Antonucci. “You’re slowly decreasing your training to rest and recover your muscles,” she explains. “So those portions (and your protein needs) will get a little lower, but not drastically. Your carb intake will stay similar or maybe go up a little, depending on your tapering. Between that and your decrease in running, you’ll be in good shape.”

The same subtlety should apply to your night-before meal. Stick with something you really enjoy, just avoid anything new and forget about carb-loading. Filling up on too much pasta can mess with your GI tract and deter your hunger in the morning, according to Antonucci.

And the one thing you should do the morning of is fuel up twice before the race. “If you’ve done that, you can top off with a gel, banana, or sports drink 10 minutes before because that counts as during-race fueling,” says Antonucci. “Because by the time it’s ready, the glucose molecules are in your bloodstream.”

Photo: ASICS

How can I ensure well-rested legs?

To land in the sweet spot of relaxed and strong, you should be reducing mileage, but not completely stopping, during the tail end of your training. “Essentially, you’re trying to lose the volume and keep the intensity,” de Mille says. The end goal of tapering is to “be sharp, but psychologically confident too,” says Estrada, who sticks to short, quick-paced runs that get his muscles firing to stave off sluggish legs.

Foam rolling can also help overworked legs recover. “Think of a rope that has a knot in it and when you pull that rope, the knot gets tighter,” de Mille says. “Foam rolling gets rid of the knot. You’re addressing anything that’s sort of getting tight and stiff.”

Lastly, stay hydrated, but don’t overdo it. “You don’t need to push a ton of extra water,” Antonucci says. “I would put in more fluids that are salty to make sure you have that salt. That salt is so important to take in before and during the race because if you just drink water, you dilute your electrolytes.”

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What exactly is tapering anyway?

Tapering is basically a steady decrease in total training volume–mostly mileage–in the last few weeks before your goal race. This allows the body (and mind) to rest and recover before race day.

I’m not a pro, do I really need to taper?

Yes. Regardless of how fast you are or how long you’ve been training, tapering for a marathon is always a good idea and can help any runner improve their performance. It’s a way for your body to recover from a long, hard season of training without losing fitness. If you’ve accumulated some pesky aches and pains from grinding out all those K’s, the taper is just what you’ll need to run a strong goal race.

How long is a proper taper?

Unfortunately, the taper is not a one-size-fits-all concept. When tapering for a marathon, generally, the shortest taper should be no less than 7-10 days, with the longest period lasting about three weeks. Most runners opt for about a two-week taper where they gradually decrease their mileage leading up to race day.

Should I still do workouts?

Yes. Tapering is mostly a reduction in training mileage, but not intensity. If you typically do a mid-week workout, still do something–such as a tempo or speed work–in week one of your taper. The only change you should make is reducing the overall duration and top-end intensity of that run. Consider running one or two fewer intervals or cut-back the tempo by 20 per cent. The goal of the taper is to boost confidence while reducing the total stress on your body by allowing it to fully recover by the time race day arrives.

It’s also wise to modify your workout the week of your marathon to something short and confidence building, like a (3-6K) marathon-pace tempo or short (K or mile) repeats slightly faster than race pace. This will help you feel fresh and fast without leaving you feeling tired or frustrated when you’re done your last workout of the season.

When should I do my last long run?

Your last big, meaty long run should be about three weeks before your goal marathon. Two weeks before race day, do a medium long run, reducing the volume by about 30 per cent from your longest long run. For most people, this will mean a run of about 20-24K. One week before the race just run easy for about 15-18K.

I feel like I’m losing fitness! Is this true?

Welcome to the most difficult phase of marathon training: “taper madness.” In just a couple of days, you’ll go from feeling incredible and invincible to being convinced you’ve lost the ability to run. But not to worry, it’s all in your head. Studies have shown that a proper taper will actually improve your race performance (by about five per cent), versus trying to add more training in those crucial last couple of weeks. Think of the entire taper as the hardest workout you’ll do all season. Stay focused and stick to your plan.

How do I combat taper madness?

The biggest challenge during the taper is staying positive. As race day approaches, doubt will inevitably creep in. A great way to counter the fear of failing when the gun goes off is to actually practice being positive. During your easy runs in the last couple of weeks, visualize the finish line of your race, with you crossing the finish line feeling strong and happy. If you’ve got a time goal in mind, picture the clock with that number appearing as you finish. Also, develop a mantra. Something you can say to yourself when the going gets tough that will keep you focused and put the race into greater context. After all, you are choosing to do this and it’s supposed to be fun.

Should I taper for a half-marathon or a 10K?

A big, multi-week taper is reserved for the marathon, but it’s not a bad idea to also consider incorporating a short taper into any half-marathon or 10K training plan. The week of the race, reduce your mileage by at least a third, and much like with the marathon, make your last workout something manageable and confidence building.

What am I going to do with all this spare time?

Marathon training can be all-consuming. Many runners find it oddly challenging to back off the mileage and fill the time with, well, the rest of life. See tapering as a time to celebrate a season of successful training. Stick to your tapering plan and don’t run too hard or too long, no matter how good it feels at the time. Also, now is not the time to try new things. It’s tempting to try to shoe-horn in that core work that you’ve been neglecting all season long, or tackle some cross-training. Taking on new activities will cause fatigue to new muscle groups and require added recovery. Now is the time to relax and enjoy the rest. There will be plenty of heavy lifting to do come race day.

When should my last workout be before my goal race?

Again, there’s much debate about the benefits and pitfalls of a race week workout. As a rule of thumb, keep your last workout at least four days out from your big race, and scale back the overall volume by about half of what you’re used to doing. Also, don’t go any faster than goal race pace. Instead, use this last workout to remind you of how fit you truly are. Ease into the workout by doing the first few minutes of tempo or the first interval at a pace that feels very doable, then work your way up to goal pace and stay there.

In truth, opting out of a race week workout entirely is probably not a bad idea. It will have little to no effect on your fitness level. The hay is in the barn, as they say.

Should I run the day before the marathon?

Some think it’s crazy to lace up the day before the race, while others find that it calms the nerves to do a few shake-out K’s on the morning before marathon day. In truth, a 20-minute run 24 hours before a marathon probably isn’t going to hurt, but it’s also not going to help (physically that is). Some will say that it’s better to be safe than sorry and to stay off your feet, carb load like mad and conserve your energy for the main event. Others need to get out and do something, anything. It might be wise to make that a 20-minute walk, but if you must run, go for it.

Last week before marathon

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