Running the 26.2 miles of a marathon is an impressive physical feat -- whether it's your first or fifteenth. Rest up during the week prior to the race, while not losing your edge, so your legs feel fresh and ready to go come race morning. Resist the urge to go far and hard this week; instead, spend time honing nutrition, packing for the race, staying off your feet and fitting in just a few miles to keep you feeling peppy.
The week before a marathon is the end of the taper, a period of time during which you decrease mileage to rest your legs before the marathon. You should have run your longest run of 20 or more miles two or three weeks prior to race day. Exactly one week out, or seven days before the event, plan to do your last long run. This run could last anywhere from 8 to 12 miles, depending on your plan, running experience and goals. For the rest of the week, don't run much farther than 4 miles at a time. Keep the pace for most of these miles 90 to 120 seconds slower than your race-pace goal. Avoid training more than 20 miles, total -- this includes the mileage from your long run.
Training Run Structure
Run a short, quality run about four to five days prior to the race. Make it last 2 miles, or about 20 minutes, at race pace or slightly faster. Precede this quick run with a 1-mile warmup, and follow it with a 1-mile cool down. Alternatively, you could run all your short training runs this week at a relatively slow pace, but include five or six 100-meter strides at a sprinting pace at the end of one or two workouts. A couple of short, intense runs can help prevent sluggish, heavy legs from setting in during the taper. Always err on the side of caution, though -- if you run intensely too much, you'll over-fatigue.
Hold off on weight training this week, but feel free to do light cross training for 20 to 30 minutes once or twice during the week. Any activity is OK as long as it's something low-impact that you've been doing consistently throughout your training leading up to the marathon. Introducing new activities can lead to sore muscles and even injury. You may feel antsy during this week because of race nerves and diminished training, but use your excess energy to study the race course; prepare race-day essentials such as your clothing, race belt and nutrition; spend time with friends and family; and nap.
Avoid "loading up" all week in anticipation of the calories you expect to burn come race day. Eat as you have been during training, but up your carbohydrate intake to between 60 and 70 percent of calories about three days out from the race. This will help maximize your energy stores. Carbohydrates don't just mean pizza and pasta; quality carbs such as sweet potatoes, brown rice and bananas are healthy options too. In the two or three days before the race, avoid any foods that are exceptionally greasy, full of fiber or spicy --- all elements that can cause digestive distress come race day. Keep alcohol intake to a minimum, but do hydrate with water so you're not dehydrated come race morning.
Stay Off Your Feet
Don't use this last week to perform chores, such as major housecleaning, that you've put off while training. If you travel for the marathon, don't spend the days before the race walking all over town; save time after race day for sightseeing. You may run a couple miles the day before the race just to loosen up, but plan on making a quick trip to the race expo and then relaxing most of the day so that you're adequately rested for the next day's run.
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