So if you have made it this far, CONGRATULATIONS! This means that you have probably been working extremely hard for the last 12-16 weeks, and your marathon date has gone from months, to weeks, to a matter of days!
At the time of writing this, I am just 5 days away from my 6th marathon, and my 3rd of the year, and whilst I am no expert, I have picked up some handy hints & tips over the last couple of years, and especially over the last few months on how to stay sane on these final few days.
So whether this is your 1st marathon, or perhaps you have already done a lot but always struggle with these last few days, I hope you find some of these tips useful! And of course, if you have any of your own pearls of wisdom, pop them in the comments below!
Now this can depend on the individual, some people love the idea of winding down ahead of a big race whilst for others it feels them with dread! The idea of reducing miles and training can put people into a panic. Visions of losing fitness and all the progress you’ve made disappearing before your eyes is completely normal (so if this is you, don’t worry!) but it simply is not true. Tapering (alongside rest & recovery) is a key part to any marathon training plan, and should not be ignored. The idea of tapering is that you get to the start line feeling fresh, the last thing you want to do is get on that start line already feeling exhausted (save that for the finish line!)
A marathon taper tends to be anywhere between 2-3 weeks before the race, but the last week is especially crucial. Please remember that you will not gain anything from going out and smashing a really tough training session the week of a race, your body will not have time to adapt, and in fact it could have the exact opposite effect of what you were hoping to achieve.
Now, here is where some people do get a little bit confused. Tapering does not mean just stop completely, it just means that you reduce your mileage, intensity and level of activity. For me personally, I still keep active during my final taper week, I still run & go to the gym, but just make sure I take it a bit easier! Here is what I will be getting up to this week…
Monday – Easy Paced 6 Miles & Gym (Upper Body – I reduce the weights during taper week)
Tuesday – Track Session – 8 x 400m + WU & CD – This was a ‘feel good session’ not 100% all out, so the aim was to make sure I felt comfortable on every rep, which I did!
Wednesday – Easy Paced 5 Miles
Thursday – 1.5 mile warm up, 1 mile @ marathon pace, 1.5 mile cool down & Gym (Lower Body – again, I will reduce the weights/number of sets)
Friday – Rest Day + Travelling to Switzerland
Saturday – 2/3 mile VERY EASY run/shakeout
Sunday – RACE DAY!
Following on quite nicely from point number 1 – MARANOIA! Yes, it may be a made up word that people joke about, but it can be a real thing that can really affect people (and sometimes quite badly) ahead of an important race.
The reason why this follows on quite nicely, is that maranoia tends to kick in once you start tapering. As I touched on briefly above, people tend to panic that because they are reducing the number of runs/miles they are doing in the week, that somehow their body is miraculously going to forget how to run (no matter how long you have been running for – this is something I have been guilty of in the past!) But trust me, our bodies are pretty clever, and you will not lose aerobic fitness over this short period of time, especially if you are still keeping active.
Another common maranoia symptom is convincing yourself you have picked up a brand new injury or illness just days away from the race. Sneezed 3 times in a row? You have the flu! Legs aching slightly? Probably a stress fracture! I will admit, it is hard not to panic that something could go wrong and ruin the one thing you have been working towards for months on end. But worrying causes stress. And stress is the last thing you need on top of everything else. It can affect your sleep, your eating habits & your general wellbeing. Remember, as well as feeling physically fresh for the day of the race, it’s also important to look after your mental health too.
So my best piece of advice to try & deal with this, is try to keep busy and not let yourself have lots of time to think about the ifs & buts. Make plans to go and see friends, go out for lunch, go to the cinema, go for a walk, spend time with family – perhaps all the things you neglected when you were training!
Now, before you get too excited & have visions of being able to have mountains of pasta, unlimited amounts of bread and the local pizza delivery number on speed dial, carb loading does not mean just being able to eat whatever you want because you are running a marathon. I know, it sucks. And I am sorry.
BUT, ensuring that you are fuelling your body correctly (which does include more carbs, wohoo!) is important, and this doesn’t just mean cramming lots in the day before, but instead making sure you are eating well leading up to the race, especially in that final week.
The three key macronutrients are Carbohydrates, Fat & Protein – a healthy and balanced diet should include all three of these things, and on the final few days before a marathon the key is to just adjust the amounts of these macronutrients, rather then increasing your calories dramatically (still with me?!) Unfortunately there is not a ‘one size fits all’ way to do this, as every single person is different & will potentially require a different macro nutrient split & a different number of calories. To give you an idea, this is my Calorie & Macronutrient split for marathon week. But please, please, PLEASE remember that this has been calculated specifically for me, and will not work for you! This is purely to give you an idea on how to adjust your own diet
Monday & Tuesday – Calories – 2600/ Protein – 29%/ Fats – 33%/ Carbohydrates – 38%
Wednesday & Thursday – Calories – 2500/ Protein – 19%/ Fats – 27%/ Carbohydrates – 54%
Friday & Saturday – Calories – 3300/ Protein – 22%/ Fats 17%/ Carbohydrates – 61%
If you follow me on Instagram, I am keeping a week long food diary via my stories to give you some meal ideas, but here are a couple of quick & easy snack ideas which are perfect for getting those carbs in!
- 1 x Cinnamon & Raisin Bagel with 1 x Banana
- 1 x Trek Bar
- 0% Greek Yogurt with Strawberries, Kiwi, Apricot, Grapes & 1 x Banana
- Fruit Juice
I would highly recommend ordering the following book from Renee McGregor – it is packed full of useful hints & recipes to ensure you are fuelling yourself correctly during training & ahead of races. Click here to get your copy of Fast Fuel: Food for Running Success.
I would also not recommend trying anything new on the days leading up to your marathon, you want to be sticking to foods that you know work for you and are tried and tested! I would also hold off on anything too creamy/spicy/cheesy on the final days – basically you don’t want anything that could risk an upset stomach!
Whether you run or not, good hydration is important. It has been proven that the human body can actually survive for longer without food than it can without water.. so if you then throw running 26.2 miles into the mix I think its obvious how important it is you keep yourself hydrated properly!
Now again, similarly to carb loading, this doesn’t just mean downing gallons and gallons of water on a daily basis. Firstly, it will probably mean you are running to the toilet every 20 minutes, but also by drinking too much you can basically wash out all of the good things (salts mainly) that your body relies on during a marathon.
One way to ensure that you are not only staying hydrated (but also not over doing it) is by adding Electrolytes to your water. There are many different brands & products available, but for the past few months I have been using Precision Hydration for all of my pre race hydration needs. I was lucky enough to meet the team back at the Solar Boost Training Camp in June, and got a personalised sweat test, along with a batch of products & my own tailored hydration plan. Again though, you do not need to over do this, simply add one electrolyte tablet to one of your bottles of water on the days leading up to a race should be sufficient. As a rough guide, you should be aiming for around 2-3 litres per day (but please remember, this can depend on activity levels/gender/body weight) and if you REALLY can’t get past the idea of drinking plain water, then add squash – it all does the same job really!
Now you don’t need me to tell you that marathon training is tiring, and that is no different during the tapering weeks. In fact, you will probably find that you feel MORE tired during this time (which again, is completely normal and it doesn’t mean you have become super lazy over night!) so sleep is something you really shouldn’t skimp on.
Sleep is where the magic happens, it’s where fitness adaptations are made and also when your muscles can repair and recover… and it is perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of training. But don’t take my word for it. Tom Goom aka ‘The Running Physio’ has put together a fantastic resource to explain the importance of sleep for runners, click here for loads of hints and tips to help you get into a good routine.
If you are anything like me, then pre race nerves may make it difficult to drift off to sleep, but don’t panic – if you have slept well the week leading up to your event, a night of slightly broken sleep will not be too detrimental. Here are a couple of hints & tips I find help me get to sleep a bit easier the night before a race –
- Drink a peppermint tea
- Listen to some relaxing music – I personally love piano music! Spotify has some great playlists!
- Watch a film or read a book – distraction techniques!
‘He’s making a list, he’s checking it twice….’ – go on, admit it, you started singing right??
Yep, thats right, if it’s good enough for Father Christmas, its good enough for us! I am not going to lie & say I am the worlds most organised person, but I like to pretend I am, and one thing I like doing to organise myself is make lists! Whether it’s my food shopping, a list of blog ideas, or just random things that pop into my head, the Notes section on my phone is full of them, and it is exactly the same when I am getting ready for a marathon!
Chances are, that if you are running a marathon, you will be travelling for it, whether its somewhere else in the UK or perhaps you are lucky enough to be going further afield, you still want to make sure you have everything, because whether you are 50 or 500 miles away from home, it would be pretty annoying to wake up on race day and realise you have forgotten your trainers!
Again, if you are like me, I also get pretty overwhelmed if I have to do loads and loads at once, so I like to break it down. This week ahead of my marathon, I am lucky enough to be on half term, which allows me to spread things out over the week and not panic pack/buy everything I need in one go! I started off with just creating my list, literally writing down everything I thought I would need, including things I knew I needed to buy… and that, well is pretty much as far as I have got so far! Here is an example of how I have broken down my list & the things I have included (some of it may seem obvious, but it really helps me having it all written out clearly!)
Pre race – Trackies, Hoodie, Spare Trainers & Socks (incase its wet)
Race – Trainers, Compression Socks, Caffeine Bullets, 4 x SiS Gels, Sports Bra, Shorts, Long Sleeve Top, Running Gloves, Buff, Running Vest, Heart Rate Monitor, Sports Armband, lightweight jacket. – and then you obviously need to do a flat lay picture and post it to Instagram to make sure you definitely have everything 😉
Post Race – Oofos flip flops, compression leggings, buff
Misc – Power packs, headphone charger, Garmin charger, iPhone charger, travel adaptor (important if you are going abroad!) small backpack, pain killers, resistance band, PASSPORT!
General – I wont bore you with this, but things like making sure you have your toiletries, enough underwear, socks, general clothes etc.
It is always worth keeping an eye on the weather forecast too, for example over the last few days the weather forecast in Switzerland has changed dramatically, which has resulted in me having to rethink what I am going to wear for the race, and also meant I had to go and buy an emergency jacket because it is going to be a lot colder than I expected!
As mentioned above, if you are running a marathon, it is usually something you have to travel for, it might be somewhere you have never been before, and in some cases, travelling somewhere where English is not the first language, which can make things even trickier!
I recently went to Berlin for the first time to take part in the Berlin Marathon, and I will be completely honest and say that if it wasn’t for Charlie (@whatcharlierannext) I probably wouldn’t have made it out of the airport, let alone the start line to the race! She was an absolute star and had EVERYTHING sorted – from what trains we had to get, how to get to the hotel & how we were going to get to the start on Sunday. I honestly would have been lost without her!
So this tip is something I need to definitely get better at myself! Here is a list of things I would make sure you know before setting off on your trip
- Familiarise yourself with the journey to the start line from wherever you are staying – if you can do a ‘test run’ so you can relax about the journey logistics & how long it takes.
- Have a Plan B to get to the start line – just in case!!
- If you are driving, make sure you know if/when roads are closing & possible diversions.
- Make sure you read through the race day information provided & know what time bag drop closes, what time you need to be in your start area etc
- If you have friends & family coming to support, arrange where you are going to meet them at the end of the race.
- Or, just go and do a marathon with Charlie and she can look after you! Loveeeeeeee you xx
Okay, so this might have been a bit of information over load (sorry about that, I get carried away) but really it all just comes down to this… RELAX!
You have done the months of hard work, and in these last few days there really isn’t anything you can do that will dramatically change the outcome of what happens on race day. So to summarise, here are the key things to remember.
- REST IS BEST – YOU WILL NOT LOSE ANY FITNESS BY SCALING BACK FOR A COUPLE OF WEEKS
- EAT A HEALTHY BALANCED DIET (WITH MAYBE A FEW EXTRA CARBS)
- SLEEP – EARLY NIGHTS, LIE INS, NAPS!
- DRINK WATER
- DON’T FORGET TO PACK YOUR TRAINERS!
Good luck to anyone & everyone that has an upcoming marathon. It’s one hell of an achievement and you should be very proud you’ve got to this point! Just remember, the training is the tough part.. the race itself is the sprint finish!