I recently posted a silly photo of me on Twitter wearing a surgical mask and bubble wrap as protection against germs and knocks during the week before my marathon. I won’t actually be sporting that outfit (!) but I will be taking some extra care of myself. You spend weeks religiously following a training programme, pushing yourself, making sacrifices and it’s a real shame if it all goes wrong at the final hurdle. I always say the hardest part of running a marathon is getting to the start line healthy, uninjured and ready to run. Here’s my advice for what to do in those last few days.
- TAPER. It can make you feel twitchy and grumpy and often seems wrong but you do need to reduce your frequency and intensity of running significantly in the last 2 weeks at least. Let your muscles adapt, recover and store energy ready for the big day. Follow what your plan says even if you feel you should be doing more.
- STRETCH. This is an ideal time to have some really good stretching sessions. It isn’t going to make you go faster but you’re spending less time running so use these minutes to take some time out and stretch. Don’t over do it, it’s easy to be a bit overenthusiastic and injure yourself. Stretch warm muscles after a short walk or a warm bath.
- CORE WORK. Don’t forget to keep this up in the last few weeks. Being strong in your core will help you maintain your running posture and help you ‘run lightly’ and efficiently. When you’re in that last 10k of your marathon, every plank you did in training will pay off.
- EAT WELL. Running less means you’ll be burning off less calories. It’s normal and healthy to put on a little weight in the last couple of weeks. Don’t be obsessive about it. I’d say don’t weigh yourself, just eat sensibly. I always get REALLY hungry about this time and have to stop myself from gorging on the sweet foods my body seems to crave. You know what to eat; fruit, veg, nuts and seeds and other nutrient dense foods. Don’t experiment too much, stick to familiar foods. Having some extra carbohydrate in the day or two before you race can be beneficial to top up your muscle’s glycogen stores. That’s when you go for a pasta party!
- SLEEP. To me this is the most important thing. You want to feel rested and recharged. Some people find it harder to get to sleep as they aren’t as tired when they’re tapering. Try to get an extra 30 to 60 minutes every night. Don’t worry if you sleep badly the night before a race, it’s normal and it won’t matter; race day vibes will see you through.
- WASH YOUR HANDS. You can’t avoid all germs but you can do simple things like make sure you wash your hands well. This is particularly important if you’ve been to the gym or other shared spaces. Make sure you defrost and cook food properly too. You can do without a dose of diarrhoea and vomiting. Your extra sleep and nutrition will help your immune system to be robust.
- TLC. Generally be kind to yourself. Get off your feet as much as possible. Don’t start new projects at home or work. Give yourself an easy stress free week or two if you can. Obviously life goes on and somethings can’t be avoided but often some simple organisation can free up some time for you to relax.
- PLAN. Spend some time planning your race. Look at the route, decide on your pace if you’ve got a time in mind. Check you have your race nutrition sorted and purchased. Decide what you’re going to wear on the day. Look out those ‘Registration’ emails and letters. Importantly you need to prepare mentally. Get into a positive frame of mind. Banish the negative thoughts that are making you doubt yourself. Plan what mantras and positive images you’re going to use when the going gets tough. It may sound silly but rehearsing these can really make a difference.
Hopefully following this advice will give you a healthy couple of weeks and get you to the start line ready to reach your goal. I can’t finish without a bit of ‘Doctory’ advice! If you aren’t well then don’t run. It can be really risky and make you more unwell. It’s hard and I’ve been there. Someone said to me, “There’s always another race”. Not what you want to hear but d’you know what? It’s true. Run happy and safe everyone.
Image from Gratisography