Q: Training the week of a big race?

Hey Lauren!

I often struggle with how to train the week of my race. I usually taper and run a couple harder runs earlier in the week, then go easy and take the day right before the race off. What does your training look like the week of your race? Do you run or do any cardio at all the day before? And following the race, what does your training week look like to ensure you get some rest but don’t slack off too much?



Dear Michelle,

I have a pretty strict training routine that starts about 10 days before a big race.  I think the last chance you have for a workout to make you faster or stronger for your race is 10 days before.  You need at least that much time to recover and absorb that workout so it can help you with that particular race.  Every workout after that is designed to simply maintain my current fitness and stimulate the energy systems.

I cut my overall mileage by about 30% but I keep the same rhythm to my training.  For example, where I would normally run 7 miles in the morning and 5 in the evening on my easy day, the week of a race I would run 5 miles in the morning and an easy 3 in the evening just to warmup for a good stretch.  If normally I would do a 5 mile evening run after a hard morning workout, I cut it to 3.  The overall volume of hard workouts also gets smaller, but I don’t run the paces any slower.

Here are the best pointers I can give you to focus on the week of a race.

  1. Focus on sleep.  Try to up your nights rest to 9-10 hours.
  2. Limit your caffeine intake to the morning (related to #1).
  3. Maintain your weekly rhythm of training.
  4. Design your workouts to stimulate your body and energy systems without over-loading them.
  5. A good session on, say, the Monday of race week could include a little tempo work, followed by a couple race pace reps, finished off with a few speedy 200’s or 400’s.  My favorite is a 2 mile tempo, 4×800 at race pace, 4×400 at race pace, 4×200 faster.
  6. I prefer to take a day off two days before a race, not one day before.  The day before the race I like to do an easy 20 minute jog, some stretching, some light drills, and then two short reps at race pace to prepare the body and get the wiggles out.  Then I jog 5 minutes to cooldown and call it a day.  This prevents me from feeling stale on raceday.

If I were doing the marathon rather than track, the specifics of pre-race training might be different but the theme would be the same: everything I do simply fine tunes what is already there.

A final bit of advice…When it comes time for the race, expect the following:

  • a mystery injury that crops up a few day before that occupies all your attention (this is just a distraction for your mind).
  • your legs feel terrible the day before you race (totally normal).
  • lots and lots and lots of yawning and an overwhelming feeling of tiredness (this just means you are relaxed which is good).
  • waves of nervous energy (distract yourself with work, books, or movies)

Sending my best from Des Moines at USA’s!