Wow, we are less than 5 weeks from race day 2017. That means we have two long runs left in training before the taper. All your training to this point has you ready to complete these last long tests and will propel you to the finish line on April 29. One of the great things about knowing you have the fitness to complete the mileage is that you can focus on the rest of your race preparations during these final weeks. Practicing everything from your meal the night before, morning routine, race day outfit, shoes, and your in-race nutrition will give you time to adjust anything that doesn’t quite work. The old mantra “nothing new on race day” seems played out, but it’s used so frequently for a reason. Many a race has gone south because runners have decided to try new shoes or the newest gel pack and had it backfire at mile 9. Honestly, the very best thing you can do for yourself now is to go through everything as you would on race week/day as a trial run.
The easiest way to derail a race is to have last night’s dinner catch up with you on course. Avoiding it however is simple, try it now! Pasta dinners are the go to, but may not be right for you. Some may have iron stomachs and can handle non-traditional meals that are spicy or greasy, but most cannot. Generally, you want easily digestible carbs and lean protein the night before a long run or race. My biggest meal is lunch the day before a race, rather than dinner. Dinner for me is just to top off my stores and avoid hunger overnight. Then I focus on getting breakfast in 2-3 hours before the gun goes off, again something with easily digestible and accessible carbs.
In addition to your pre-race meals, you want to start consuming some nutrition during your workouts. If you are going to be running or walking for more than 60 minutes, you’ll need some simple carbohydrates like sports drink or gels on the course. There is a wide spectrum of options however, from all liquid to “real food” like dates or bananas. Gels, chews, chomps, waffles etc. are all good choices but are very different both in how you intake them and how your body may handle them. I know several people who cannot STAND the consistency of gels but will happily chew on a waffle mid-run. Use this weekend’s long run to test one of the options and adjust as necessary. Lots more on eating on the run here.
Gear – clothing, shoes, socks, watches
The post race shower doesn’t lie. No matter how much you might adore that cute purple running skirt and black singlet, if it chafes you the shower will tell all! Better to find out now that something bothers you. You can always add extra Body Glide or go back to your favorite old outfit! This is even more important with your footwear. Obviously, you want your race shoes to have as much life left on them as possible but that does not mean taking them out of the box and immediately racing. Ideally, race shoes should have about 40 miles on them. You want to get a couple shorter workouts in, a long run, and a quality run (speedwork) if you do those. That combination gives you a true feel for the shoes in many situations but still leaves them with plenty of nice cushioning to treat your feet on race day.
Lastly, learn how to use your watch now. Practice, practice, practice with it until you can do it almost without looking. Also, make sure you know where your charger is and do any updates required. If I had a dollar for all the times I hear about a watch causing race day stress, I’d be running in Hawaii by now. Please please learn your watch and take care of it if it is important to you in a race.
Enjoy and Relax
The last month of training is so amazing because you are fit and ready. You are just refining your training to take full advantage of that fitness. Take time to enjoy this month. Look around and take it all in. This journey is yours and every single one is special. It doesn’t matter if this is your first race ever or your 100th; every race season is unique and incredible. The last week will likely be a blur of activity, so enjoy these last several weeks of training! The weather even seems to be cooperating for us too. See you all on April 29th! – Happy Training!
Training. We are training our bodies by stressing them a little bit more each week, then resting to let the body adapt to that work. Then repeat. We train our minds to handle the rigors of more miles and to get out of bed to get in our last snowy run of the season, because we need to be strong minded to reach our goal. We’ve also trained our spouses, children, and coworkers to get used to seeing us head out the door in running clothes or show up to a meeting with a recovery drink instead of coffee. All of this work IS training, but we are also practicing. Basketball teams practice inbound plays, soccer teams “set plays,” track relays handoffs over and over again until the simple action becomes part of their muscle memory, almost as unconscious as breathing (almost).
We don’t often call it practice, but that’s what it is. Running events can be overwhelming. Not only do we have to cover a long distance by our own power, but we have nutrition, hydration, clothing choices, parking, figuring out how to drink while running and not wear orange Gatorade down your shirt to think about. Runners worry about EVERYTHING. There’s even a name for checking the weather on race day, weather stalking, and it starts 10 days out from race day! It’s easy to say don’t worry about it, but nearly impossible to take that advice. So, let’s take control of that which we can: pre-run routine, hydration, nutrition (both before and during), proper drinking while running and let go of what we cannot. PRACTICE all of it before race day. Start now.
I’ve covered what to eat and what to wear many times. You can read those here. The bottom line is that the old running coach mantra on race day is true, you should do nothing new on race day. The only way for it to feel normal is to practice it. Set out your clothes the night before a long run, eat the same breakfast, and yes even try the same pre-run dinner the night before. We have 7 weeks left, so if you make a mistake and your tummy dislikes broccoli and chicken with whole wheat pasta, you can try something else next week. Do it until it becomes a habit, just part of your run.
This weekend will be a terrific opportunity to pull out the shorts and singlet to practice your race outfit. With weather in the 60s and 70s, this is our first opportunity to run in conditions close to that on race day. Eat your planned pre-race dinner on Friday, get in your chosen breakfast on Saturday, carry (and use) your gels or blocks or favorite fuel, and enjoy every mile. Look around and smile! While you are at it, practice your finish line pose. If you see a bunch of runners with their arms in the air or flexing at the end of the run, you’ll know you are among fellow Cap City athletes!
We are in week 8 of our 17 week training program toward the Cap City half and quarter marathons. The miles are beginning to climb, but the weather is starting to behave as well. This past weekend in Columbus was a breath of fresh air, warm fresh air. I hope you enjoyed every bit of it.
Now is a good time to evaluate how your training is progressing. How do you feel? Are you tired, but not wiped out? Are you sleeping enough and well? How is your nutrition? Running and walking is not always about everything going well all the time. Often it is about evaluating something that might be a little bit off and adjusting. This is a lifestyle and not really about this 17 weeks. We want to be fit and healthy for the rest of our lives, so really think about how your training is going. Are you seeing progress?
If everything is going well, good for you! Keep it up. If not, think about what you want to try next. Maybe that means getting a few more fruits and veggies in your diet or hydrating better before or during a workout. Maybe it means paying attention to your sleep quality and setting a bedtime that is 30 minutes earlier than normal. Maybe you can’t pin down what to do. That’s ok too. Just going through the exercise of thinking about your training is good mental work. Being aware of how you feel and thinking about why helps us tune into our bodies more and more each time. You might not know right now how sleep, water, or exercise makes you feel. BUT the fact that you are thinking about it is the first step to making that connection. Coaches talk about mental training all the time and often we think that means visualizing your race or goals or hard workouts. That’s true and incredibly powerful. However, I believe that learning to understand how the choices we make throughout the day make us feel mentally, physically, and emotionally can be just as insightful. Being an endurance athlete means taking the leap from going through the motions of doing the work to understanding how our bodies and minds adapt to that work. How it makes us feel and learning what we could do to feel better is as important as the work itself.
If you are feeling a bit overwhelmed with all that lies before you, you are not alone! Fitting training in with an already packed schedule is normal. We don’t often talk about it, but it is hard. Try and take it one week, or even one workout at a time. If you find yourself needing to skip a workout or two, that’s ok. If it becomes a habit, that’s when you have to reevaluate your goals. Life is busy and yes we need to make time for ourselves, but when it becomes more of a chore to train than a blessing step back a little. Take an extra day off for yourself or your family and then get back at it.
Listen to what your body is trying to tell you. If it is happy and enjoying the training, soak that in. Remember what you’ve been doing and keep going. If something is off, really pay attention. You know yourself best and if you think something is not right, stop and evaluate. Don’t simply push through because the schedule says to run. Take the time and make sure you are healthy, so that on race day your body feels its best. Best thing I’ve ever heard a coach say is “You cannot win if you don’t finish, cannot finish if you don’t start” so make sure you really take heed of what your body is telling you.
Running the hills of Grandview last night, I couldn’t help but think of the rhythm of our training season. At times you can see the city skyline, but of course it disappears at the bottom, only to reappear at the top. The rhythm of running hills is soothing. The push and increased heart rate up, the speed and ease on the way down are exhausting and exhilarating. Similarly, so is the training cycle. There is a definite rhythm to training. Many call it structure and that is of course accurate, but structure is set up by the science of training. Rhythm speaks to the feel.
If you are following my schedules on CapitalCityHalfMarathon.com you are all too familiar with the structure: Saturday long runs, Sunday active recovery/rest, Monday moderately long run, Tues off, Wed medium run or speedwork (intermediate group), Thurs short easy, Fri off, then repeat. It may seem random, but it is all specific and for a reason. The goal is to stress your body in specific ways on certain days, then recover from that stress. Then we do it again, again, again. We get stronger throughout the season. There is science, experience, and a lot of obsessing about just how much we can ask of ourselves in training without asking too much or too little. Goal is to get everyone to the starting line AND the finish line healthy, always.
A wonderful side effect of all that structure is the rhythm. Our bodies and minds crave routine. Have you ever noticed that as much as we anticipate a vacation and need the break, we often look forward to getting back to our schedule? I have no data or research papers to quote. I was originally trained as a chemist; in the sciences we need data and analysis to back up statements. I have become an engineer and again we need data, analysis, statistics. However, the longer one does something the more tuned in we become to our intuition. Call it experience or whatever, my boss calls it engineering intuition. I think that’s what is going on here. The rhythm of training, sore muscles, recovery, training, etc. becomes part of our lives. We need it or crave it just like that morning cup of coffee. Could we do without it? Absolutely, but we might feel “off” throughout the day. I don’t have research to point to, but in my gut I know it is true. What was once hard like speedwork on Wed evening and then having to get up and run a 30 minute recovery run, has simply become routine. We feel better because we do it.
We are coming into the last month of training. We are used to the rhythm and we are good at it now. This what my friend and head coach of CERC, Teri calls “The Monster Month.” It is indeed the month where our mileage peaks, both on the long runs and throughout the week. It should not be scary because you have done the work leading up to it. Each week is only slightly longer than the previous weeks. However, it should not be taken lightly. Respect the mileage and what you are asking of your body. Fuel it with proper nutrition and hydrate appropriately. Sleep. Rest on your rest days, now is not the time to take up a new sport. You can do that in late May! Feel the rhythm and enjoy it. We will shake it up again a little bit two weeks before your race, when we begin the taper phase. I’ll cover that later; the routine will be the same but the amount of running will be dramatically reduced.
Enjoy your last few weeks of training. Now is the time where the fitness gains start becoming apparent. Weekday runs are more enjoyable AND the thermometer reads above freezing! I cannot wait to celebrate with you all on May 3rd!