Here’s a good read from Coaches Mike and Steve on our 2-week taper into a half marathon. Basic concepts, good detail. Our taper begins after your longest training run, and goes to race day.
You just ran your longest training distance ahead of the half marathon coming up in about two weeks. Now is the time you begin a formal taper period as part of your periodized training program. With a successful two week taper, you’ll be well rested and full of energy at the starting line. Your actual plan is based on experimentation and learning from the decisions you made over your training program with Boise RunWalk.
Two weeks out
Get plenty of rest prior to your longest/hardest training run of the season. If you are especially tired or feeling run-down afterwards, consider taking two easy days between workouts during this week. If you expect warm temps at your event, you should try to help acclimate yourself in advance by running several times over the final few weeks during the warmest part of the day. It takes about 10 days to acclimate to warmer weather.
The last two weeks is not the time to experiment. Don’t try anything new the last few days (foods, supplements, stretches, etc.) Stick to your plan.
Do not run hills or run hard this final week. The hay is in the barn! Take a minimum of two rest days between each weekday run. The purpose of these workouts is to allow for continued recovery from all your training while just maintaining your fitness. It is too late to get into better shape this final week, but you can fatigue or even cause tissue damage to yourself if you are not careful. It is better to be slightly undertrained and fully recovered than the opposite.
Tips on what to eat, drink, or not
During the last few days before the race, stay away from fried or greasy foods, and reduce your consumption of red meat and large amounts of protein-heavy foods. Remember, these are nutritional recommendations to go along with the experimenting you have been doing all season.
Any use of caffeine for performance should come after first improving all the other major performance indicators. Caffeine use will not substitute for training. Ant it is a diuretic. Caffeine will speed up your metabolism, including urine production. Endurance athletes like how caffeine increases circulation of fatty acids, which can conserve your glycogen store.
If you plan to use caffeine as a performance enhancement, make sure you have experimented in training, and consult your coach for ideas on how you decide caffeine dosage and timing. From our point of view, caffeine as a legal drug can have positive outcomes on performance, when used correctly. Tip: taper off your daily caffeine during the 2-week taper for best results
For best performance, avoid alcohol the last few days leading up to race day. Alcohol has a thickening effect on the blood stream for 24-48 hours after consumption. Waiting to enjoy your favorite adult beverages until after the taper and after the race has it’s benefits, for another article.
Water and Electrolytes
During the last few days before the race, you need 1/2 of your body weight (in pounds) in ounces per day if you don’t run, more if you do.
Example: Sally weights 140 lbs, and she should consume a minimum of 70oz of water during each of the last 3-4 days prior to the race. You cannot make up for deficiencies in hydration levels on race day without consequences, like frequenting the portable restrooms. Drinking more than your used to can result in diluting the sodium concentration of the blood, causing sodium imbalance. Be sure you are still getting electrolytes in your body.
Carbohydrate-rich foods (complex carbohydrates – vegetables, whole grains, legumes, etc.) are best the last several days. These will help maximize your all-important glycogen stores. Try to get some iron-rich food items other than red meat the last day or two.
Last few days – Stretching and Sleeping
Consider stretching thoroughly the last few days (including the morning of the race) and don’t forget you are approximately 17% more flexible when you are already warmed up. Stretch gently and patiently. If it hurts, that is your sign you are being too aggressive and know it takes 6-15 seconds before your brain will signal to that muscle group to relax and begin lengthening. Sleep is when we repair, rebuild, and recharge. The night before the night before is the most important of all.
You’ve arrived. The race starts soon. Give yourself plenty of time to avoid last minute stress. Allow a 5-10 minute warm, completed 5-10 minutes before the race starts. Begin to drink water again, about 8 ounces within 20 minutes of start. Be sure to allow one more time at the porta potty, accounting for the long line. Stretch gently while standing in the pee-line, and try to smile even if you need to pee like a race horse. One minute out, place yourself into the starting field, and be the caged tiger that you are.
Negative Split. Shoot for a negative split, where the second half of your run is slightly faster than the first. Coach Steve believes the optimal split is zero (0). Ideally, you’ll run the race and maintain an optimal pace the entire race. In reality, if you can minimize your negative split but at least achieve a negative, this is good. It’s lots better than running the second half of your race 30 minutes slower than the first.
Stay hydrated. Drinking at planned intervals based on how you trained. Don’t wait until you are thirsty. Be sure to consume some fuel at strategic intervals, as well.
Race Plan – Carbs and Electrolytes
Drink between 4-8 ounces of water and sports drink (with carbohydrates and electrolytes) alternately, if possible, every 15-20 minutes depending on the conditions. Consume calories on a plan: 30-60 grams of carbohydrates every hour after the first (approximately 120-240 calories). Remember to read the instructions that come with commercial products. For example, GU and Clif Shot, which both typically come in 100-calorie packages, provide directions for use every 30-60 minutes during a long distance endurance event and with sufficient water to avoid gastro-intestinal distress due to high concentration ratios. If your event does not offer sports drinks at their aid stations, you may want to carry your own. An alternative to sports drinks as an electrolyte source is Succeed Buffer Electrolyte capsules (S-Caps). Ask Coach Mike for specifics. Feel free to supplement with a few simple carbohydrates during the hour prior to the start if you have experimented with this in training.
Two Hours to Race Start
Hydrate with about 20 ounces of water by about 2 hours before the race, with the plan of having an empty bladder at the race start. This will give your body a chance to absorb the water and eliminate as is necessary.
What to wear? Wear synthetics… the same items you’ve worn all season.
If you have new shoes, try to break them in with at least 30 miles on them (but no more than 300) prior to race day. Remember, the insoles that come in new shoes break down much faster than the shoes themselves, so consider replacing them.
Correct Running Form
Run with near vertical posture, not leaning too far forward on the uphills and flats. Bring your heels up nearer to your rear end, and keep your stride relatively short, and quick, especially down hill. When running downhill, run perpendicularly to the ground. Don’t lean back and brake. Learn to belly breathe before race day so you minimize occurrences of a side-stitch.
The Finish Line
Save your inner-most emotions, strength, and athletic prowess for the last mile, or two. You’ll enjoy passing ‘road kill’ if you haven’t run too hard during the first half. Smile, and say something encouraging to others as you pass them by. Say something like, “should’ve trained with Boise RunWak” or something kind.
Post Race Celebration
Celebrate your accomplishment. But wait, there’s more strategy needed. Drink a minimum of 20 ounces of a sports drink or other carbohydrate, with electrolytes, within the first 30 minutes after finishing, prior to your beer. Get some food into your within 30 minutes so your body can recovery faster. Change your wet clothes and dress warmly. Avoid hot tubs and warm baths for the first few days. Ice and/or cold is better, so go jump in the creek.