There can be many a way to tackle the penultimate week before a race – whether it be a local Parkrun or the London Marathon, there are things you can do to increase your performance. Several points are fairly easy to understand, for example, sleeping well (8 hours or more per night) and eating healthily (keeping the junk food to a minimum), but there are many factors that people often ignore – factors that can make a difference to your performance.
The workouts you complete in the week prior to your race can make a huge impact on how your race goes. You definitely have to include a ‘taper’ if you want to feel fresh for your race. When runners use the word ‘taper’ they mean their week is much easier and has less volume than what it usually would. For example, say in the winter my aim is to run 70 miles a week, but the week leading up to a 10km cross country race I would probably do 40-45 miles. This can be same fairly obvious, right? The less you run the week prior, the more rested you’ll be, consequently leading to a better performance. And yes, this is true, but athletes can go about this the complete wrong way.
To explain this I will be rather anecdotal; the majority of runners will just run ‘easy’ the week prior – presuming the key to performing better will be the least stress possible – but that is not the case. If I only run 7 minutes per mile the entire week before a race, then the first mile of my race is at 4:45, my body will be in shock and I am most likely to tie up and fade, even though I should be fit enough to race at that pace. This is because the entire week before the race you have taught your body to run SLOW, so when it comes to running fast, your legs are going to get an unpleasant surprise.
The way experienced runners combat this is by including a light session in their taper week, which can consist of small volume, but at a faster pace – something close to race pace – this way you can still get the legs turning without fatiguing them too much. Another approach is to include a lot of strides in the week prior; perhaps after an easy run you do a couple of fast strides, mimicking the pace and form your body is going to have to cope with when it comes to the race.
Obviously, depending on the distance you are preparing to race, the intensity of these light sessions and strides are dependable, but they will certainly make the race feel more comfortable when it comes about.
Apart from structuring your week properly before a race, another main factor can be hydration – the week leading up to a race is the week you want to pee more! Drinking plenty fluids keeps the body feeling fresh and healthy, and can help combat any lethargy in the days leading up. The final factor really does depend on the distance you are competing, but it is something even novices to the sport have a basic understanding of: Carbo – loading! If you are doing a race more than a mile long, it is beneficial to load up on carbohydrates one or two nights before the race, allowing for sufficient energy supply when you put your body under immense pressure.
As everybody is unique, no one can tell you EXACTLY how the week before your race should go, it is definitely something you need to experiment with until you find something that you both enjoy and find efficient – proving the best results on race day.