As the fall draws near so do many of our goal races, whether a 5k, 10k, half-marathon, marathon, or ultra. The way runners approach their final few weeks of training has big implications for race day. While physiologically there are no workouts that can help a runner improve his or her fitness in the final 14 – 21 days before a race, there are plenty of behaviors – both mental and physical – that can derail your performance on race day. Listed here is a guide for how you should approach your final 3 weeks.
Three Weeks Out
If you are running a marathon, the longest long run of your training cycle should be three weeks from race day. Many runners use this run (typically 20 – 24 miles) as a “dress rehearsal,” where the same clothes, shoes, gels, etc. are used throughout. If you were not able to have a perfect training cycle, avoid the urge to complete any long runs after this time period, since biologically it takes approximately 3 weeks for cells to fully recover from a 20+ mile run.
Two Weeks Out
If you are planning to run a half marathon, 10k, or 5k, the final long run should be two weeks from race day. For half marathoners this is typically a 10 – 14-mile run, while 5k/10k’ers might complete 8 – 10 miles. During these final two weeks, it is important to cut out extraneous activities from your schedule, such as cross training and heavy weight lifting. When athletes begin this “taper” period, they may find that they feel anxious or have less confidence in their abilities. An affirmation journal can be helpful where athletes write down positive quotes, thoughts, or affirmations throughout the day – especially when negativity creeps in. If you are running a marathon or half marathon and plan to use caffeinated gels, two weeks from race day is also a great time to limit your consumption of caffeine. By weaning yourself from this stimulant for a couple weeks you will experience a greater boost on race day when you reintroduce it into your regimen.
One Week Out
In the final week before your race, you should rest your legs as much as possible. The focus here should be recovery. Stop performing all additional exercises, including yoga and core routines. Do not try anything new this week, including different stretches, new foods, or a new routine. You will have extra time and energy but avoid the urge to take up a new project around the house until after your race is over. Focus on getting extra sleep, and be sure to work in a couple race-pace workouts into your schedule.
Three Days Out
Regardless of the distance, you are racing, you should begin to load up on carbohydrates three days from your race. Runners should aim to consume 8 – 10 g of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight during this time period. Carbohydrate sources should be wholesome, avoiding refined options such as cakes, cookies, white bread, and white pasta. Instead, focus on foods such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat bread, and natural sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup.
24 Hours Out
When you are 24 hours away from the race you should go for a short shake out run or walk in order to loosen up your legs (especially if you spent time traveling to the race) and dissipate any nerves. Spend the rest of the day relaxing and focusing on the final stage of your carbohydrate loading. Take a nap, stay off your feet, and don’t forget to pick up your bib number at the race expo. If you are struggling with nervousness before your race, unplug from social media and get lost in a good book or movie, letting your mind wander away from the task at hand.
12 Hours Out
If possible plan to eat your pre-race dinner 12 hours before race time, as this is optimal timing for fueling your run. After dinner lay out everything you need for the morning, including socks, shoes, sunglasses, watch, outfit, bib number, pace bands, gels, and any other items you will require.
3 Hours Out
Plan to wake up three hours before race time in order to eat breakfast, relax, and allow your body time to fully wake up before you get to the starting line. Focus on positive thoughts, and above all, know that you are prepared for your journey and treat the race as a celebration of your hard work!