Running in the 'Meda: Preparing for race day

Running in the 'Meda: Preparing for race day

Marty Beene

A memento from a tough race. Photo courtesy of Marty Beene.

Last year, 32 Alamedans completed the San Francisco Marathon, and 63 Island residents completed one of the two half marathons (first half or second half of the marathon course) offered at the event. Many of you may be running either the full or half San Francisco Marathon on July 27, which is only a little over a week away!

The race is on my mind because a friend (actually, the guy who slaughtered me in my 10,000-meter track race last month) is doing the full marathon, and my son Cameron is running the half marathon (second half). Both guys hope to finish well up in their respective age groups. My slowest (and most painful) marathon was this one in 1987, on a different course.

At this time before a big race, it's very common for runners to have a confidence crisis of varying degrees. "Did I run enough miles? Did I do enough speed work?" The important thing to remember during the final weeks before a race is that there actually isn't much you can do at that point. The rule of thumb for running training is that whatever you run today will benefit you two to three weeks from now. So the last couple of weeks should really be focused on "resting" and sharpening.

The "rest" doesn't mean to stop running, but to do shorter, easier runs. You want to be exercising your legs almost every day - yes, that means you can take a few days off here and there if you feel like it. When I was getting ready for the 10,000-meter race I did last month (with great success!), I did an easy eight-mile run 13 days before the race, an easy speed workout (400-meter repeats at race pace) nine days before, and an even easier speed workout four days before. Everything else was either an easy three- to five-mile run or walking or cycling. My body was feeling pretty dead two to three weeks before the race (i.e., at the end of the actual training), but I felt well-rested and strong on race day.

The sharpening part of the equation is mostly for runners who are shooting for a particular time. What these runners should be doing is some short-ish speed work sessions at race pace or a little faster. This kind of speed work is NOT to make you faster, but is merely practice for running the desired pace so that it feels normal or even easy on race day. The trick to doing these kinds of workouts is that you don't want to feel tired at the end of the workout like you would during the weeks and months when you're really training. I could tell I had designed the rest and the speed workouts I mentioned above correctly because those two speed workouts felt super, super easy. Sure enough, when I toed the line for my race, I felt I was truly at 100 percent strength.

One thing to consider when you're winding down before the big day is that you won't be burning as many calories as during your primary training period, so you might want to cut back just a little on your food intake. It's not uncommon for people to gain a pound or two or more in the two weeks of tapering because they are only running around half of the miles they were a month earlier, but continue eating the same amount of food. Carrying extra weight on race day is not a good strategy for running a fast time.

Finally, one of the most important things to remember in the days leading up to a long-distance race is to get enough rest. This is especially true for those running the full marathon or the half marathon on the first half of the marathon course because those runners will be starting between 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. The importance of getting enough sleep in general is hardly ever overstated, and this is definitely true for optimal athletic performance. If you're ever going to be religious about getting to bed early, now is the time - not just the night before the race, but every night for at least a week.

What are your tips for the final week or two before a big race?

Marty Beene, a USA Track & Field certified coach, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups. Marty can be reached at