Last week, Runner’s World offered me the opportunity to do special Q & A on my blog with one of their editors on a topic of my choice. With the New York City Marathon right around the corner (in just 8 days!), I jumped at the chance to ask some questions about what to do the week before the marathon in order to run the best race possible.
Below are my questions with responses from Mark Remy, a blogger, author, and executive editor for RunnersWorld.com. Mark has been a runner for 16 years and has run 21 marathons (including six Boston Marathons) with a PR of 2:46. He’s also the author of The Runner’s Rule Book and The Runner’s Field Manual.
What should I eat the week of the marathon? How much of my diet should be carbs?
When you’re one week out from a marathon, this is easy: You should be eating, more or less, what you’ve been eating all along during your training. Just less of it, since you’re tapering and running less. (Or should be.) Don’t worry too much about percentages of carbs, etc. in your diet at this stage. Again, your best bet in the week leading up to a race is to keep your diet consistent, predictable, and safe. Boring, even. Just focus on getting a nice, healthy blend of grains, fruits and veggies, lean protein, and some fats. Which is what you’ve been doing all along… Right?
What are some examples of healthy carbs that I should eat?
Before a race, really, just about any easily digestible carb is a good carb: oatmeal, bagels, rice, pasta, bananas.
Don’t go overboard, though. Too many runners think carbo-loading = carbo-gorging. No! You can’t race well if you’re too bloated with rice and pasta to fit into your running gear. Coincidentally, we just did a great article about carbo-loading, including some sample menus, here:
Honestly — and this might sound like heresy coming from a Runner’s World editor — I tend not to fret too much about my diet, especially in the days leading up to a race. Mostly I eat what I crave, within reason. The day before I ran my fastest marathon ever (2:46), I ate most of a bag of potato chips. Maybe my body was demanding salt? Whatever it was, it worked.
One final note: There’s nothing magical about pasta. If that’s what you’re craving the night before your marathon, great, knock yourself out. But don’t feel obligated to have spaghetti. As I say in The Runner’s Rule Book, “It’s just flour and water, folks.”
What should my workouts look like this week? Is there any type of workout that I should avoid?
Running-wise, you have just two goals this week: 1. Rest; and 2. Don’t get hurt.
Right now, you are as fit as you’re going to be. So long runs or hard workouts would be worse than useless – they could actually sabotage your race. Instead, run a few miles on a few days. Feel free to throw in some “strides” here and there, picking up the pace to around race pace for 100 meters or so, fast but not sprinting. This is a nice way to burn off steam and keep your legs feeling sharp, without tiring you out.
Personally, I like to take a “zero” two days out from a race, and then run a few miles VERY easy the day before. Again, just to loosen up the legs and burn off some nervous energy. This is especially nice if I’ve traveled for the race and my legs are feeling stiff.
Mentally, how I should prepare for race day?
As hokey as it sounds, I’m a big believer in visualization – mentally rehearsing your race and picturing yourself running well. See yourself starting slow, hitting your splits, finishing strong.
Also, think about all of the training you’ve logged to get to this point. If you have a training log, spend some time reviewing it, remembering all those miles and all those workouts. Tell yourself that you’re ready. Because you are!
At the same time, I’m also a big believer in not dwelling on things. So be sure to carve out some time in these final days prerace to have fun and enjoy yourself. Buy a book you’ve been dying to read. Do dinner and a movie with friends. Nap. Remember, again, that the training is done. This week is a time to relax and recover – not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.
What’s your best advice to calm pre-race jitters? I know I’m going to have trouble sleeping the night before the marathon!
This is so common. And it’s a healthy reaction, by the way. I always tell people, “If you weren’t nervous the day before a race, I’d be nervous.”
My advice here is twofold:
1. Remind yourself that preprace jitters are totally normal. Everyone has them. And I mean everyone. All you can do is acknowledge them, remind yourself again of the hundreds of miles you’ve run to prepare for this, and move on.
2. Expect not to sleep the night before your race, or not to sleep very well, and be OK with that. Much more important is the sleep you get the night BEFORE the night before the race, and perhaps the night before that. If you’re reasonably well rested when you wake up Saturday morning, even if you toss and turn that night, you will be golden for a Sunday morning race. I guarantee it.
The funny part is, once you get good at accepting this and expecting not to sleep well the night before your race… You often wind up sleeping well the night before your race. Go figure.
Thank you, Mark and Runner’s World, for coordinating this Q&A. It was so helpful to me. Mark’s replies to my questions definitely make me feel a lot more confident and even more excited for November 6th.