Top Taper & Race Day Tips!

I can hear the gremlins talking to you now and asking, have I done enough training? Should I squeeze in one more 3 hour run to be sure I am ok on race day? Do I need to make up for that week I missed when I had a cold? These are common worries in the final weeks; eventually it becomes time to let the body start to recover and build its strength for race day.

The training you do today takes 3-4 weeks to have a real long-term effect on fitness so you can see immediately that 3 weeks out from a marathon we can reach a point of diminishing returns if not careful.

A clever marathon taper sees you protecting your fitness and feeling great on race day. You can use the final weeks to sharpen up slightly with a couple of shorter faster sessions and even a 5k parkrun or two but definitely consider the following:

  1. Run your longest marathon training runs 3 or 4 weeks out from race day. A top session could be 3 hours with the last 60 mins at your target marathon pace.
  2. Two weekends before reduce this long run to about 2 hours with maybe the last 45 mins at target marathon pace.
  3. One week before, it’s time to run for just 60 mins easy and enjoy the Sunday papers (perhaps).

All other training needs are to remain the same 3 weeks out, although do have a couple of easy or rest days after that longest run. Your last key harder session should be about 10 days before race day. This might be something like any of these 3 options:

  •  80-90 minutes with 3 x 10 mins @ threshold built in off a 5 min jog
  • 15 mins marathon pace + 5 x 3 mins @ 10k pace + 15 mins marathon pace all with a 2 min jog rec
  • 60 mins with 6 x 5 mins @ threshold off a 90 second jog rec.

2 – What should my final week of training look like?

The simple answer is easy! Our big tip though is don’t taper too much…yes you can have too many rest days and then feel super sluggish by race day.

Our bodies love a routine so maybe run for 30 mins easy a few times in race week chatting with mates or along a favorite route. Don’t chase time or worry about the GPS stats just run easy and keep relaxed.

It’s sometimes good to run a light session 4-5 days before on the Tuesday and this might be:

30 mins including 3 x 5 mins at threshold or your marathon pace off a 2 min jog. You are just keeping your legs used to a little pace and feeling faster.

We often advise runners to jog for 10-20 mins the day before the race and stretch. It helps you to feel loose on race day and can calm the nerves a little. However, always practice what you are used to race week and the day before. If you usually rest then definitely do this.

3 – How can I calm those marathon nerves in the final week?

Let’s be totally honest here, the nerves will kick in at some point and this is a good thing. It’s certainly totally normal but we need to get things in perspective. Hopefully you have kept a training diary or followed a plan of some kind. Take time out in the week at some point and review your training over a coffee. Remember your best long runs, sessions and maybe a half marathon that went well. Its time to remember the positives and you can draw on these on race day.

It’s also time to also surround yourself with positive people and those that enjoy the challenge and are excited by the thought of race day.

4 – Nutrition – how much should I eat during my taper?

This is a great question and we see so many runners getting this wrong during the taper ruining months of hard work. It’s all actually really simple – just eat normally and gradually reduce the volume and intensity of your training.

Your body needs the quality calories to keep your glycogen (carbohydrate stores) topped up and you feeling great in training and on race day.

Our simple catch phrase is ‘never hungry, never over full’ and grazing throughout the day with snacks and sensible main meals will work well for you.

Our top nutrition tip though is ‘eat your normal pre-race or pre-long run breakfast’. Don’t suddenly change what has worked so well for you in training. You want your body to feel normal and comfortable on the start line…it’s not the time to suddenly try porridge or some wonder meal!

5 – Sleep & Rest

You always need to respect this key element as a runner if you want to improve. Try to get a few early nights in race week and definitely protect that immune system in the final weeks, as late nights and picking up a cold will wreck race day.

6 – Getting your kit right!

It sounds easy but many make the mistake of buying new shoes at the expo or wearing new socks, shorts and tops because they want to look good. Keep it simple and wear the shoes you ran your last few long runs or half marathons in and make sure any clothing has been worn and washed a few times before you race in it.

Take a look at the weather forecast for race day and wear whatever is going to keep you cool and comfortable.

7 – The final minutes and start

Wow, it’s finally here! Now it really is time to keep your head. You will hear all the best excuses being uttered by many as you walk around or stand in the pen waiting to start. You know the characters I mean here, the ones who are already apologising for their result or offering reasons why it’s going to be tough for them. Time to think again about maybe 3 runs that went well in training that you have banked or the cause and reason you are racing.

Look around you and focus in on the target you have set. Remember your pace, split times and don’t rely on your GPS…they often fail with so many signals in the same area. Have your splits per mile written on your hand, arm in permanent ink or on a wristband.

Sip your final mouthfuls of water/sports drink but don’t take on more than normal, you don’t need it.

Hand your kit in, and perhaps have an old tracksuit on to stay warm; any discarded clothing at the Start will be collected by charities. In the final minutes take these off, having kept warm and dry.

As the gun goes however, count to 10 and slow down if on a faster start…. you really need to ease into your race day pace in the first few kilometres rather than running too quickly. Those of you on the mass slower starts should use the walk to the start line after the gun has gone and the early crowded miles as your perfect warm up. You have 26 miles ahead of you and lots of time to gradually catch up on that pace.

8 – Your race strategy

Run at the pace you have practiced. After building into the pace you should then look to lock into the kilometre or mile splits that became familiar to you in the marathon pace sessions and longer runs.

Definitely don’t try to bank faster miles and get ahead of the schedule. This is a sure way to guarantee hitting the wall in the final third of the race, and you are using up those carbohydrate stores too quickly.

Perhaps try running a touch under your marathon pace in the first 10k, then your planned pace for the middle 20k, and then throw the kitchen sink at it gradually over the last 12k.

We recommend you take on gels every 30 mins on race day and you should have practiced this on some long training runs. Take your first gel at 30-45 minutes and then every 30 minutes for the rest of the race. Also sip on sports drink and/or water occasionally in the race. You don’t need too much and be sure to not take on too many fluids on the way round.

My top tips is ‘watch the pinch points stay calm’. In the Brighton Marathon you will feel like the Olympic Marathon champion as you pass along the Seafront with all of the crowds. Before you know it your pace has picked up and you are running too fast! Feel great and let the hairs on the back of your neck do their thing but slow down and stay calm. Keep your ego in a box and save it, as the real marathon doesn’t start until you reach 20 miles!!

Yep that’s right, that’s when the real fun and challenge begins. If you have trained well, tapered smartly, run at a race pace you have practiced, and taken your gels and drinks early on you can attacked the final 6 miles making it home tired but with style. Get any of these key elements wrong and it’s the hardest 6 miles of your life.

That’s why the marathon must be respected.

So taper well and remember…less can be more! Good luck everybody….

Nick Anderson is the Official Coach for Brighton Marathon Weekend

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