(Blogger's Note: I have completed Phases I & II of the training. Next week, I start Phase III: Track Work. I decided to jump ahead and post the race tapering information from my training program because this is what I am following this week).
Race Week and Beyond
Race week is when you make your final physical and mental preparations for the race. It is also, of course, when your race occurs. And it is the beginning of your recovery from that race.
That's a lot to pack into a fragile seven days. I say fragile because at the end of sixteen weeks of smart and intense training, your race is like a piece of finished sculpture. (Now all you have to do is transport it from one building to another, without breaking it, so it can go on display).
To better get a handle on all the challenges associated with Race Week, I have broken it down into four segments; Monday through Thursday ; the 24-hour period directly preceding the starting gun; the race itself; and the post-race period.
Let's take them one at a time.
1. Monday to Thursday: Caution
These are the days when you can take all the gains you have earned during those sixteen weeks of training , crumple them up into a ball, and throw them out the window.
I have seen runners who didn't know any better (and runners who should have known better) completely ruin their chances at PRs just a couple of days before the race).
And how did they do it? They went for runs on Tuesday or Wednesday of that week - and those runs turned into races. The runs were invigorating, exciting and they ran well (they were in great shape). But, then, when they shoed up for their race Saturday morning, they found that their midweek"races" had taken more out of them than they realized. And soon after the gun this fact dawned on them with cold certainty. They had blown it.
To make sure you don't blow it, here is a cautionary discussion of some of the misconceptions that tend to creep up during Race Week:
I STILL NEED MORE SPEED (OR MILEAGE)
During Race Week, all runs should be easy except where noted in the training schedules. A Tuesday light track workout at race pace, for instance, is a good way to get the legs moving during Race Week. (But it is a light workout and over with soon). The danger here is to doubt your training, think you are not fit, and try to squeeze one or more hard workouts into the limited time remaining. This could be a heavy track workout or, if you are training for a half marathon or marathon, one more long run six or seven days out.
This is foolish for two reasons: The first reason is that you will not have time to recover and so the workout will leave you fatigued on race day. The second is that any hard training takes a while to take effect - you need to recover and grow stronger to see the benefits - and a hard workout during Race Week will not even have enough time to "sink in."
Therefore, any hard training you do during Race Week should be thought of in this manner: You are tiring yourself out for nothing.
I NEED TO FAST TO BE FAST
You need to fuel yourself for you race, but as the race draws near the exact opposite impulse often strikes runners. They see a drop in mileage during the last week (or, for marathoners, during the last two weeks) as a reason to cut calories. They skimp on breakfast, nibble on lunch, and then skip dinner altogether. Because they are not running as much, they feel fat, and the only way to combat this feeling is to put less food in their mouths - which, of course, leads directly to a race where running PRs is simply out of the question, because they have not properly fueled themselves for their races.
During Race Week the lesson is simple: You need to eat. For starters, food keeps energy levels high (this, in turn, combats pre-race anxiety). It also stores fuel (needed to get you to the finish line). And it aids in recovery (your body is repairing damaged muscle tissue from sixteen weeks of training). All three are critical for PR race success.
The easiest way, then, to ensure that you are getting enough food during Race Week is to continue eating three meals a day. Your body should be conditioned to eat (and be hungry) at these times, so keep up the daily routine. Pay special attention to eating dinner, especially if you run during the late afternoon as cutting back (and cutting out) on a run at that time will lessen the usual pre-dinnertime hunger and the motivation to eat.
If any food can be cut during Race Week, it should be the "reward snack," the large cookie that comes on the afternoon of your long run or the bowl of ice cream on the night of a hard track workout. Save that eating for after the race.
I DON'T NEED REST
Resting is vital because the only way you can be completely ready to run a PR is to be so rested you are bursting at the seams to race but at the same time also at your highest level of fitness. This is your final "peak" for the race, and it's a tricky thing. Your training program - Road Work, Strength Work, and Track Work - has also been designed, over the course of months, to peak you for your race. So is the fact that in the weeks leading up to your race, you have been cutting back on mileage and the intensity of your workouts. But all that stuff has been the easy part. All you had to do was read a training program and then go out and do the prescribed workout.
The real challenge comes when "rest" starts to appear more frequently in the training program (for instance, most programs have two days of rest in a row during the final week). By the time you get to that point in your training - with the race just around the corner - many runners are either too antsy ("I can't take a day off now, I'll lose fitness") or too excited ("I'm ready to go") to refrain from running.
Yet rest is what you must do at this time if you want to PR. To do so, you need to remember that you won't "lose fitness" by taking days off close to your race. If you have followed the training program, the exact opposite will happen - you will gain fitness as the body takes its final rest before race time to repair itself and grow stronger. (This is the internal magic of peaking). Second, all that energy and enthusiasm is certainly a good thing, but it needs to be harnessed. Think of yourself as a racehorse in a paddock. You need to wait for the race to officially begin before you use that energy for its intended purpose.
Finally, there is a danger even if you do refrain from running during your rest day. The danger is you take that day to do a bunch of things that keep you on your feet, like running errands or cutting the lawn. "Rest day" means no running. But it also means taking it easy, keeping your feet up, and relaxing. So watch this tendency to burn that running energy through a series of non-running activities on your rest day.