Just signed up for your next marathon? Trainers don’t suggest cramming in intense training last-minute, but there are some things you should (and shouldn’t) do that can help you get in the zone and make the most of your current training level.
It seems like fall was created to be marathon season. The fresh, cool air makes for perfect running conditions and that gorgeous, brightly colored autumnal landscape is the perfect backdrop for an uplifting morning run. Whether you’re a seasoned runner or a beginner looking for a way to dive into the world of 5ks and 10ks, now is the best time of year to sign up for a race.
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But, sometimes, life gets in the way and we don’t end up having as much time to train as we had hoped for. So what happens when you find yourself one week from race day, hopelessly unprepared and totally freaking out? Relax. Breathe. You don’t have to drop out now, and you won’t drop dead during it. Follow this expert advice from top trainers, plus YouBeauty staffers, and readers who frequent the race circuit, to focus on the things you can control last minute. These do’s and don’ts will help you tie up those loose ends and get in the zone in the week leading up to race day and on the big day itself.
You can’t end-load your training after weeks of procrastinating, as much as we wish it worked that way. “The purpose of the week before the race truly is to rest up and keep your legs loose,” says Jenny Hadfield, running coach and co-author of Marathoning for Mortals and Running for Mortals. “It’s kind of counterintuitive because your nerves, especially if it’s your first race, tend to increase a week out, so you want to get in those harder or longer workouts as extra insurance,” she adds. But doing that will only leave you fatigued and tired come race day, hurting your performance instead of helping it.
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“There’s no need to run fast the last week before a race because you really can’t change your conditioning during the last seven days before an event,” adds Jeff Galloway, a member of the 1972 Olympic team, founder of the Galloway Marathon Training Program, and author of Galloway’s Book on Running. Both experts suggest nothing more than a few easy, 20-minute runs the week before to maintain what you’ve got. There’s no need to continue cross-training or add anything else in.
Do: Keep your diet consistent
Avoid any big dietary changes. “Eat familiar foods and normal portions,” Hadfield suggests. Identify the foods that your body normally digests well — and stick to those. Also, stay away from highly processed foods. “Making major changes can often deprive you of the nutrients you have been getting, and you may interrupt your blood sugar level, which causes your brain and body to not work as well as they normally do,” Galloway adds.
Don’t: Carb-load the night before
Contrary to what you might have heard, you don’t need to eat a pound of pasta the night before a race. In fact, you don’t want to load up on anything the whole week leading up to it. “Too much loading can lead to unloading during the race or immediately after, and that can be embarrassing,” Galloway says. Both Galloway and Hadfield suggest eating a modest-sized dinner of whatever foods you know will sit well with you. For some people, that might mean fish, rice and vegetables, notes Hadfield, and for others, a burger. Up your carbohydrate intake just a tad, and avoid sauces that have a lot of fat in them, Galloway adds, “because they can cause problems in digestion that can stick around the next morning.”
Laura Cheatham, a YouBeauty reader who has run five half-marathons and one full one, warns of overstressing your body during training. If you ignore pain while training, you could end up injured and even have to stop on race day. “Even if you have to take off training for a few days, it's better to do that than to permanently injure yourself,” she says.
Don’t: Spend a lot on running clothes.
“When preparing for my first race, I read a ton of articles on what to buy to become ‘a runner,’ “ says Anne Roderique-Jones, YouBeauty community manager. Every source told her she needed super expensive shoes and pricey athletic pants. But after her first race, Jones realized that her less expensive (but comfortable) sneakers and “practically pajamas” worked just as well. “After a handful of triathlons and one half-marathon, I still run in old college T-shirts and threadbare leggings,” she notes. “Now that I think about it, I should probably add a sign that says, ‘Pardon my appearance.’"
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Do: Keep a log
Maintain a log or journal of training practices, as well as your diet, so you can know for your next race and adjust. “That way, you can create a recipe as you move forward and do more races,” Hadfield says. Some people do well taking a break from running the day before, Hadfield says, and others do best going for an easy jog. You won’t really know exactly what’s best for you unless you try it and see.
Don’t: Eat sugar the morning of the race.
Eating right before a 5k or 10k isn’t that necessary — your body will have enough energy without it. But if you’d prefer to munch on something, Galloway recommends a really plain snack, like dry toast. But avoid sugar, unless you are diabetic or hypoglycemia and need it to boost blood sugar, in which case you should eat it no more than 30 minutes before. “Sugar prior to that 30-minute window will give you an insulin rebound, causing blood sugar to drop before the race,” he says.
Do: Take walk breaks.
“Running continuously, especially for those who have not gone the distance before, is going to produce muscle fatigue and soreness,” Galloway says. “So the insertion of a strategic walk break from the beginning will minimize stress and fatigue on the muscles and allow them to adapt to the running motion so they don’t get overwhelmed.” Hadfield adds that this is a great technique for those who have skimped on their training. Incorporating these walk breaks at regular intervals will give you the short breaks you need to really power through without problems.
You might think since it’s a race that you just have to be able to run. Your lung capacity and endurance mean nothing if your legs can’t handle going that many miles. When you’re cross-training, make sure you focus on exercises that build up the strength of your leg muscles, too. You’ll need them.
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Do: Run a practice race.
It’s easy to get intimidated and psych yourself out for your first race, says YouBeauty reader Margo Konugres, who has run countless 5ks and 10ks, plus three half-marathons and one marathon. To get over a bad case of the nerves, she suggests running a less established and advertised 5k beforehand as a practice run. “That way, there will be less distraction,” Konugres notes.
Don't: Start out too fast.
“Be the tortoise, not the hare,” Hadfield suggests. The number one mistake runners of every skill level make is starting out too fast, leaving them struggling at the end. “This runs counter to the natural human tendency in a race to be excited and just take off,” Galloway points out, “but you need to restrain that enthusiasm.” Hadfield suggests breaking the race down into thirds, running the first section at a pace where you can still hold a conversation, the second at a higher pace where you can start to hear your breathing, and then really dial it up at the end and push hard to the finish. You’ll also keep yourself from burning out mentally early on.
Let's face it: Good intentions aside, it's easier to hit the snooze than get out of bed and hit the pavement. So, whether it's figuring out how to sculpt your body or finally learning how to carve out "me" time, the folks at YouBeauty have us excited to get sweating and stay on track.