The basic concept of distance training is to continually add stress to your body and teach it to become comfortable running the distances proscribed at your desired race pace. Because it takes two weeks for the body to adapt to any new stress, the workouts that we do between now and race day will not have enough time to directly benefit your fitness level. What they will do is allow your body to feel more comfortable running at race pace, as we focus on short workouts that encourage quick leg turn-over combined with the most important element: rest.
The taper is not just about altering the types of workouts that we do, but is also the time to focus on mental, physical and logistical race preparation.
You will hear the mantra of consistency in each of the following points, but it is especially important when it comes to sleep. Get into a sleep routine and stick with it as closely as possible. As long as you are consistent in your sleep during the weeks prior to the race, having a restless sleep the night before the race (almost guaranteed!) will not affect your performance . Try to avoid a situation where you try to make up for lost sleep, as the change in routine will probably have a more negative effect than the actual hours you lost. It is important to have a few practice sessions; wake up at the same time you will on race day so that your body can get used to the rhythm.
Paying attention to good nutrition during the final days of training will never make up for several weeks of inadequate nutrition. Like your pre-race warm-up and race tactics, when and what you eat is an individual matter, but it should make sense. There are some folks who can eat the house down prior to a race and others who are extremely sensitive and cannot eat anything. The soundest policy is to do what works best for you, and to do exactly what you've done throughout your training. Since this may be the first race for some of you and others may be looking for specific guidance, here are some general suggestions.
· Have little or no food 3-4 hours prior to your race.
· Up until that time, eating simple carbohydrates usually is your best bet. Bread, bagels, pancakes, rice, & pasta are easily tolerated by the digestive system, but there is no need to 'load.' Some runners like some proteins and perhaps a little fat, but try to limit these as they have the tendency to react negatively with your stomach.
· Water is the best fluid to take with your pre-race meals as it is quickly absorbed. Sports drinks are also good to consume.
· Stay away from excessive amounts of sweets, as they cause water retention and a bloated stomach.
· Drink most four to eight hours prior to the race and then sip continuously from that point on. Avoid drinking large amounts of water in the hour before the race - doing so almost guarantees that you'll be hitting the portapotties more than once before and during the race!
· Most importantly: Race day is not the time to experiment! Don't pick this day to try out a gel if you didn't train with gels, and don't eat a plate of enchiladas the night before if you don't normally do so before a long run. On this day, go with what you know.
Apparel & Shoes
Throughout this program you've run in the heat, you've faced the bitterly cold, you've pushed through hurricane force winds and pushed through humid, sticky mornings. Use these experiences as education, as the weather will have the most to say about what you wear during the race.
As a general rule, try to wear as little clothing as possible in order to remain comfortable. As your body temperature increases during the race you will need far less clothing than you do at the starting line. It is best to anticipate this and be a little chilled - but not frozen! - at the start. Try to wear technical apparel, which wicks moisture and remains lightweight no matter how much you sweat. If you must wear extra layers for the start, choose old throwaways - this is where cheap cotton gloves come in handy - that can be discarded along the course.
Wear the same shoes that you have been training in up to this point. Unless you have already experimented with racing flats, this is not the time to try them out. If you feel that you need new shoes for the race then be sure to purchase them NOW - don't wait any longer! - to be sure they are broken in and will not blister or rub.
Given the months and months of training you have put in, you are fully prepared for this race. If you taper as the schedule dictates, you will be rested and ready for success. Now is the time to consider the work you have done, look back over your log (you'll impress yourself!) and focus on the race. You are in a mode of final-quality training designed to let your body to take advantage of all the stress that it has been through. You've made through an intense training program and must focus on one thing when you hear that gun go off: you are ready!