If you are like me, you have been training for a target race or two, and likely have your eye on some other, probably shorter, races this fall. My target races are a marathon in Dover, DE, in three weeks, and then the Across the Bay 10K the following month. I want to run several 5Ks and other short races, as well, because after my marathon I can work on speed and get the joy of going all-out in a race.
The advent of fall racing calls on us to shift gears, and taper for our target (A) race. Here are questions I ask of myself and my athletes at this juncture:
Are you training through lesser races to use them to help you build your racing mentality and add speed?
Consider racing once or twice in the final weeks of your training (pre-taper) to get your racing mojo. Last weekend I ran a hilly, hot half marathon and this weekend I ran a metric marathon using the first half to ingrain racing at marathon race pace. These get logged as training - and with warm-up and cool down miles qualifying the efforts as the long runs I need leading into my taper.
Are you over-trained?
Are you feeling exhausted on your runs? Is your performance declining rather than improving? Is your heart rate elevated above usual levels when you run and does it take longer than usual to drop to normal levels? Does recovery after a harder effort come only slowly, if at all? These are among the many signs that can suggest that you are over-trained.
Over training can afflict any athlete when the training load remains high over time and the body does not have the opportunity to fully repair itself. Over training causes performance to drop and increases the likelihood of injury. It can even lead to depression.
Are you over-trained? If so, back off and be sure to get in a long taper for your big race.
My average heart rate for the Annapolis 10 miler, which I raced at the end of August rather than using it as a training run, was 147. Six days later I ran a slower but hotter 20 mile training run at an average heart rate of 160. Whoa! Since then, I have been watching my heart rate and paces closely, for other signs of over training. Indeed, I have taken extra time off in the last several weeks because of tiredness and not the best results. I think the extra rest has helped: Last Saturday in my hilly and hot half marathon my heart rate was 148 and for this weekend's metric marathon it was 146.
Are you under-trained?
Didn't get in all the miles and workouts on your training schedule? Join the club. Please recognize that you can't make up lost training. You will need to adjust your race goals and pace to reflect the training you have been able to get in.
There is one potentially helpful move you can make that I have often made (with license from my coaches): Reallocate what's left of your training time before your target race. Consider taking a shorter two-week taper rather than the more typical three weeks. This will allow you to get in one more week of heavier training with another longer run.
What's your taper plan?
The role of the taper is to give your body progressively more rest and recovery so you are peaked to run your best in your target race.
In a three-week pre-marathon or half marathon taper, in the first week I typically have my athletes reduce their long run to 80% of their longest training run distance and reduce weekly volume by 25%. In the second week, both long run length and weekly volume are reduced another 25%. In week three, the long run is obviously the race and typically three to four other runs are programmed in race week, including a marathon race pace track workout. For calming nerves and adding confidence, a short, easy run is typically programmed for the day before the race.
A two-week taper is often scheduled for shorter distances (and sometimes for marathons and half marathons, as noted above). In my typical two-week taper, the long run distance drops by 40% and weekly volume by 30% - 40% in the first week. The second week, leading into the race, mixes a couple of easy, short runs and one or two marathon race pace runs.
Important things to know about the taper:
- You are tapering distance, not pace. Weeks of long, slow running likely have programmed you for, well, slow running. A coaching adage that applies to the taper period is that "you have to run fast to run fast." Doing so reprograms your pace and builds confidence at the same time.
- However, full recovery from a long, hard effort normally takes 10 days - that's for the micro tears in your muscles that the effort produces to fully heal and your body to fully adapt. This means that you should only push the pace in shorter, controlled ways.
- You likely will feel worse rather than better early in the taper. Every pain will cause you concern. You may experience a malaise. Not running so much will raise doubts about whether you are ready. In effect, you will suffer from withdrawal from more intense training.
- The good news is that later in your taper you are likely to feel strong and fit, ready to race.
Have you tried out what you will wear on race day?
If not, try it out now, not closer to or on race day. Get the new shoes and run in them. Run in your singlet, racing shorts - whatever you will wear on race day. Locate the extra shirt you will wear to stay warm at the start of the race and be sure it fits.
A huge rookie racing mistake (that even vets make from time to time) is to show up at the race wearing new gear - and then discovering that it chafes or causes blisters or otherwise impedes performance. Try it now, not on race day.
Are you stressing out?
As the big race nears, we tend to stress about it. In my most recent post, "Race anxiety," I offer thoughts on how to cope with the natural tendency to experience increasing stress and self-doubt as you taper and approach race day.
Taper well and race happy!