At 7 days out from a race (or other endurance event).. your training is over.. but your recovery has just truly begun!
The final week of taper before your race is only about one thing (because there is only one real thing that you can accomplish at this point) and that is recovering as fully as possible so that you are at your best for the race. That is it! Let me repeat… That is it!
The problem is though that many think the last week is an opportunity to get in a couple of workouts that they may have missed during their training.. “I was sick for 5 days a few weeks ago or couldn’t train when I was traveling for work last month….” so they try and get in a couple of tough runs (or rides or swims.. whatever your sport is) the last week so that they can “makeup” that missed workout before the race… Madness!… Utter madness and simply do not let yourself do it.
Last post I talked about what not to do the last 9 days out. This post I will go into a multitude of things to do so that you have the best chance of getting to the starting line as fully recovered and ready to race as possible.
To start again… your training is done. At 7 days out no workout you could perform would have a positive impact on your fitness because there simply isn’t enough time for that run (ride, swim etc.) to have a training effect. You will still be recovering from it on race day. You will perform a few runs the final week but they will be only to help keep your legs loose, your nervous system sharp and move blood into your muscles to help remove the residual lactic acid and repair the tissue (the definition of “recovery runs”). Before I go into all of my “not running” techniques for tapering and recovering the last week, let me describe what I consider to be an almost foolproof running schedule the final week. I have used this schedule (and used it with my students) to taper for races from Half Marathon to Marathon and Ultras. The last week is virtually the same (tapering for races 10K and shorter is a bit different and will describe that in some posts later in the Spring when I will be training for some short stuff). So here is the final week:
Saturday (or Sunday if your race is the next Sunday): 8 – 10 miles for a Half, 10 – 13 for a Full or Ultra. Easy pace or a maximum of your race pace. If race pace then do the lower end of the mileage just described.
Monday: Off. Scary I know two days off in a row the last week before a race… RELAX.
Tuesday: 4 – 6 miles at race pace (to get your legs to remember and feel comfortable at that pace and for a tiny bit of nervous system stimulation)
Thursday: 30 minute easy jog (easy!)
Friday: 10 – 20 minute easy jog
Saturday: Race day!
Move everything one day forward if your race is on Sunday.
I just detailed what your running should be like that week, but what you do when you aren’t running can have just as much of an impact. I will detail those now:
- Increase your protein intake. All throughout your training your muscles never got a chance to 100% repair. They got stronger and you got stronger, but they were never given a chance to get to 100%. That is what we are trying to get them to do this last week and they need more protein, Try to get in an extra 50 – 100 grams of protein everyday for the last week. Protein shakes are fine. Have one protein shake a half hour before going to bed so that your muscles will be fed for a portion when you are asleep (when your growth hormone is at it’s highest).
- Increase your minerals. Get a good multi-mineral tablet and take it everyday the last week. GNC makes a good one . You need the extra magnesium and potassium (among the other minerals) as they help ensure proper muscle contraction and will reduce the chances of cramping on race day. But don’t just rely on the pills.. get them through bananas, raisins, nuts, seeds, coconut water, potatoes and other sources. The key is just focus on getting your minerals in for help in muscular repair and race day preparedness.
- Take daily Epsom salt baths. Epsom salts are very powerful healers. Take hot (must be hot to have the skin effectively open up for the transdermal delivery) baths as many days as you can (more than once a day is no more effective). The main reason why epsom salts work is that the Magnesium gets directly into your muscles through your skin. It is hard to get as much Magnesium and as effectively through food or supplement sources. They are an invaluable aid for recovery and you can generally feel the difference the second you get out of the tub. 12 -20 minutes is the right time frame. The only cavaet is don’t do them directly before your runs, do them directly after or later in the day.
- Increase your antioxidant intake. I think you should be able to do this effectively through high levels of dark fruits, vegetables and juices throughout the day, but you can take an antioxidant as a safety net. This one is simple.. the more antioxidants you have in your blood serum the more repair they can perform for many processes including the damage from your lactic acid buildup. They also (and you don’t see this written about) can have a significant effect for your race itself because they will work to reduce the effect that lactic acid has on your muscles as they fatigue. Lactic acid builds up in your lactic acid “bucket”.. you can’t increase the size of that bucket (and when it spills over.. that is it.. you are hurting) but you can use antioxidants to bind to the acid and work to slow the spilling into the bucket. This is an advantage you can have on race day because most don’t know this.
- Get a good massage. But an easy, blood moving, waste removing effleurage massage not a serious therapeutic myofasical release massage (I will talk more about this type of massage and its benefits in a future post). A good relaxed massage will help remove more waste products and loosen small knots. If you never have had a massage before though (or would go to a therapist you have never been to before) I wouldn’t recommend doing it for the first time during your last week. You don’t want to get extra sore a few days before the race.
- Stretch. This is the one exercise/movement that I recommend the last week besides running. This morning I stretched on the stretching machines (and the floor) for an hour and a half. it really loosened me up and I want to be loose come race day. The only thing to note here is stop all serious stretching 72 hours out from the race. Even though it is just stretching it does take a bit of recovery. You can do gentle, light and quick stretching the day before but make it short and sweet. I will have a future post about stretching but simply try to hit all areas of the legs, low back and shoulders. You could substitute a relatively easy session of yoga for the stretching, but I wouldn’t recommend you choose a challenging one because it will eat into your recovery.
- Increase your hydration. Start to hydrate now. Take in an extra 48 – 60 ounces of water at least everyday. Can only help.
- The last bit of supplementation I recommend is (and this goes with the bullet above on protein) is to take Glutamine and Branch Chained Amino Acids . They will both help with your muscle repair and it is difficult to get enough of either in your diet. I am only using GNC brands as an example.. there are better brands out there.
- Sleep! Try to sleep more than you normally do this week. Enough said.
- Try to reduce your overall stress levels so that your cortisol hormone can have less of a catabolic effect. I know this can be difficult and life can get in the way, but this is one reason why taking 2 – 5 days of vacation before a major race can be beneficial.
I will write a shorter post later this week about a few other things to do 2 – 3 days out from your race.
Do your best to abide by as much of what has been written and you will be much closer to your best shape come race day. You will also stand a better chance!
Best of luck in your training!