Nothing you do, training wise, the week before a race will improve your race. However, there are plenty of training mistakes you can make the week or days before to ruin all that hard work. What follows are a few pointers I’ve garnered from years in the racing trenches. So listen up troops, the general’s got a few things to say.
First of all, rest. I know it’s hard to do. Even counter intuitive, right? You spend all this time training your body to forget about certain little pains, to “run through” the discomfort, to try and be consistent even when every muscle of your running body tells you it wants just one more day off and a Whopper. Well, let’s listen to that voice this week (the non-Whopper craving part, anyway). Hopefully you’ve been listening to it for a week prior as well. I always start my taper two weeks before an event because of one plain fact: It works. Your last long run should have been at least a week before your event and it should be about a minute slower than your goal pace. During the week before the race remember to keep your runs light. Don’t just not run for five days, but you want to feel fresh and a little pent up on race day morning. The best way to do that is to rest and always do less than you feel like you could; it’ll pay off race day morning. Rest also means sleep so make sure you’re getting enough of that too.
Second, have the little things figured out a few days before the race. How are you getting to the starting line? What are you wearing? What are you going to eat the night before and the day of the race? On the food front, make sure your eating something you know. Don’t decide to try Thai food the night before or go to 31 Flavors as a pre-race treat if you know you can have issues with dairy. Don’t ever buy new shoes right before a race unless it’s one you’ve worn before and know it won’t bother you. You should have at least fifty miles on a shoe by the time race day comes. Same with clothes, don’t wear a shirt you haven’t tried out on a long run before. Chaffing is never a pretty site Come race morning, I always give myself at least an hour before the race starts to show up to the starting line, intimidate as many people as possible with some pretty impressive stretching and grunting, and generally get my bearings on whether I need to use the bathroom again or if my shoelaces are too tight. You’d be surprised how many times these little things can sabotage a race.
Third and finally, remember to have fun. Getting down on yourself and thinking negatively can ruin a race faster than seeing anyone who shouldn’t be wearing split shorts (you know who you people are). Worrying too much about a race the week before is stressful and I guarantee it will affect your performance. Relax. The training has been fun (right?), so the race is going to be fun. There’s no point in worrying about what you could have done better, that little twitch in your knee, or that long run you missed now. Just enjoy the experience. Remember to think positive and never take any race too seriously. Stupid things happen. You can roll an ankle stepping out of a port-a-potty, you could forget to set your alarm and not have time to eat. You could trip and fall flat on your face in front of everyone on your way to the starting line (personal experience). The best thing you can do is roll with it. Always remember there will be other races. Nobody should dread a race day. It’s normal to be nervous, but if you find yourself having serious anxiety about it, maybe it’s time to take a step back and realize why you started running in the first place: to feel good.
I hope all this helped. Have a great race and don’t forget to smile at the finish line!