Marathon Blog

The final training weeks: What you need to know


The final training weeks: What you need to know

By now, your long runs are getting a lot longer. Depending on your training plan, your longest training run may be 12-14 miles for the half marathon, 6-8 miles for the 10K or 3-6 miles for the 5K. It’s time to start final preparations for your race. Here are some tips for these last few weeks.

  1. Use the final long run (or two if you have time) as a rehearsal for race day. Here’s how:

·            Meals. Dinner the night before your long run and your morning pre-run meal should be exactly what you plan to eat before your race to make sure it will not upset your stomach and/or cause unplanned bathroom visits. Make sure the meals fuel your muscles sufficiently for the long-run effort with a balanced mix of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats. Use the last few long runs to experiment with quantity, type and timing of food to determine what works best for you.

·            Hydration. Similarly, fluid intake the day before and morning of your long run should mimic race-day hydration. As a rule, for race day (and long-run practice days), two hours before the run, drink between 17 and 20 ounces of water. About 10 minutes before you run, drink another 10 to 12 ounces.

·            Fueling and hydration during the long run. During the long run, drink 7-10 ounces of fluid every 10-20 minutes. Adjust this as necessary based on your own “sweat rate.” For half marathon long runs, consider replacing half of the water with an equal amount of electrolyte drink (Gatorade, Powerade, etc.) You can mix the water and electrolyte drink for convenience and digestibility. Here again, mimic the quantities and frequencies of fueling and hydration that you will use on race day. Pay attention to the location of the water stops in your goal race and the type and location of nutrition (sports drinks, gels, etc.) that will be provided during your race. This information should be on the race website and on the course map. Practice with the specific brands of nutrition prior to the race to make sure they agree with your stomach. The Naperville Half Marathon serves water and Gatorade Endurance Formula and will have six hydration stations approximately every two miles (they are marked on the course map.) The half marathon will also have Cliff Shot Energy Gels at mile 8. The Naperville 10K will offer water and Gatorade Endurance formula at aid stations at miles 2, 4 and 6. The Naperville 5K will serve water and Gatorade Endurance Formula at one water stop near mile 2.

·            Attire. For your long run, you should wear the outfit you plan to wear during the race: shorts/tights, tops/jog bra, socks and shoes. Also practice with hat/headband, sunglasses, smart watch, face mask and/or hydration belt/pack if you are planning to use any of these in the race. I recommend using a fairly new (but broken in) pair of shoes for the half marathon or 5K. A common strategy is to wear a new pair of shoes for one or two of your shorter, mid-week runs, then use them for one or two of your longest runs and then wear them for the race. This will give you shoes that are broken in but still with plenty of cushion and life. Make sure you wash any new clothing and practice with all race day clothing to ensure you know how to combat chafing and blisters with your chosen outfit. Bodyglide is a great product to combat chafing, but you will need to practice with race day clothing to determine where and in what quantity to apply the Bodyglide.

·            Terrain. Mimic terrain/running surface, elevation changes, climate/temperature and especially the time of day of the race for your long run. If you are currently running in the afternoons, now is the time to switch your long run to a race time start (7 a.m. for the Naperville races). If possible, run part or all of your long run on the actual course (traffic permitting, of course) or run it on a similar surface (primarily asphalt for the Naperville races).

·            Pacing. If you are going for a specific goal time for the half marathon, 10K or 5K, practice your race pace for at least the final few miles of your long run. Also, practice an even or negative split (running the second half of the long run faster than the first half.) This type of pacing will help you maximize your performance and not burn your glycogen reserves too early in the run. If this is your first half marathon or 5K, you should not have a goal time and instead focus on finishing with an even pace.

  1. Be smart about sleep.
  • Shift your sleep schedule to race-day wake-up time requirements over the final week before the race. That way when you wake up on race morning, your wake-up time will feel natural.
  • Try to get adequate sleep during the weeks leading up to the race. For most people, this is 7-8 hours per night.
  1. Keep your exercise program the same within 4-6 weeks of the race. Specifically, avoid starting any of the following:
  • New sports
  • New cross-training mode
  • Major, physical house project
  • Weight training (Note: If you already weight train, maintain current weights, repetitions and sets for the 4-6 weeks prior to the race. Don’t increase weights, etc. Stop weight training 5-7 days before your race.)
  1. Try to limit significant life stresses during the weeks prior to the race. If possible, avoid job changes, household moves, significant travel and other disruptions to your normal lifestyle.
  1. Fine-tune running mileage.
  • Follow a two-week taper for the half marathon. During the taper, even though you are decreasing mileage, maintain the intensity (speed) of your runs. The runs will just be shorter. Here’s what your two-week taper should look like:
  • Week 1: 30% mileage reduction
  • Week 2: 60% mileage reduction
  • Run little or no mileage 2-3 days prior to the race. If you feel you must run to loosen up the day before the race, don’t run more than a mile.
  • For the 10K and 5K, you can do a one-week taper, reducing your mileage for the week before the race by 40-50%, again keeping your speed the same as prior to the taper. 
  1. Get fueling and hydration on point. Prior to the race, either follow your normal diet (during which your mileage reduction will allow you to store glycogen) or a carbohydrate-loading approach (where you slowly ramp up carbohydrate consumption and decrease protein and fat consumption during the final week before the race). The carbohydrate-loading approach is probably unnecessary for the half marathon, 10K or 5K unless you ran into problems maintaining your energy level during your long runs. Regardless of which approach you take, follow these guidelines 2-3 days before your race:
  • Stay well hydrated throughout the week.
  • Drink water freely and often during the 24-48 hours before the event.
  • 2-3 days before the race: Eat low-fiber, low-glycemic index foods.
  • 1-2 days before the race: Consider avoiding fried foods, red meat, dairy, nuts or roughage to avoid gastric distress during the race.

Bonus tip. How will feel during the taper? The reduction in physical workload during the taper will take an unexpected toll on you. Your body is used to exercise and your body will react to its absence. You will likely experience symptoms such as:

  • Feeling “antsy”/hyperactive/anxious
  • Feeling bloated, fat and sluggish
  • Irritability
  • Muscle twinges, aches and tightness

If you feel any or all of this, good job. Your taper is going according to plan and you’re on track to be able to do your best on race day. More important than anything, stay relaxed. Do a bit of stretching to loosen any tight muscles. Consider scheduling a sports massage a few days before the race, but only if you have previously had this treatment in your training program.

Practicing these elements during your final long run and weeks of training will help you maximize the best strategies for you and reduce your race-day anxiety by ensuring you are as prepared as possible.

In my next post I will have some more detailed race-day preparation tips.

Laurie Lasseter Marathoner
ACE Certified Personal Trainer
RRCA Certified Running Coach
Edward-Elmhurst Health & Fitness