On Tapering, Carb-loading and Race Planning


Taper Week
I do not taper well. After almost 10 years of marriage, we have a lot of unwritten rules that keep the household ship off the shoals. One rule, high on the list, is that I need to exercise almost daily. If I don’t, I get restless, irritable, and cranky. I’m a 70 year old man that was charged a nickel too much for his coffee. I’m a 10 month old that can’t dropped her bottle. Suddenly there are three little kids to deal with in the house. It can make tapering for big races a challenging and fraught time. 

The fact that I at least recognize this psychosis is a step in the right direction and I’m trying hard this year not to let it throw me off stride (ahem). Having two little kid and a nutty puppy certainly gives me plenty of distractions to keep my occupied, but I was relieved when I woke up this morning and started to feel excited for the race this morning. It was like emerging from a fog.

In retrospect it was probably more than just the taper this time. After three 40 and 50 mile weeks in a row, I hit the 2 week slow down and taper sore and very relieved. And very burned out. If (okay, let’s not kid ourselves, when) I do this again, I think I’ll cut the training time back from 20 weeks to 16 weeks.

The problem was that as the recovery week moved into the taper week, I still just felt mostly relief at not having to put the running shoes on every day and little to no excitement for the upcoming marathon. It was a weird blue period, that thankfully seems to be lifting.

Mental Prep
The other thing I’m trying to do this year is shift my focus during the taper off the drastic reduction in activity and toward a better mental race prep. Over 26 miles, a strong mental game is likely to be just as important as strong legs.

As a writer, I’m very familiar with self-doubt and I’m hoping this kinship will pay off. There is a point in writing any story, short or novel length, where you become absolute sure that what you are writing is all worthless drivel and a complete waste of time. At this point I almost welcome the feeling. Personally, I know it means I’m almost done and if I push through, the feeling will (mostly) pass.

From all that I’ve read and watched, I think I can expect something similar in the marathon, probably around mile 18 – 20. During a couple long runs, I definitely hit a point where my legs were concrete pillars, my lungs were suddenly heaving and taking another step felt like running in cement. I’d like to avoid that on Sunday, but if not, I want to be mentally ready to beat back those feelings rather than indulge them.

I’ve also come to terms with the fact that there is no perfect race. Despite all the long runs, short runs, intervals, strides and stretching, you can’t prepare for it all. A marathon is a long race and I’ve spent much of this week going through various scenarios in my mind and having a plan or a response for each high or low I hit.


Carb Loading
Being on a primarily plant based diet, this is actually proving to be one of the harder pieces of race week. You’d think I might enjoy the respite from greens and whole foods, but, starting yesterday, trying to cram in all these carbs (oatmeal with brown sugar and honey, white bread, Gatorade, bagels, white rice, gummy candy) has led to some rather wild swings in energy.

And you know what, I still don’t think I’m hitting the ideal number my coach is recommending. Based on my weight, I should be consuming over 500 grams of carbs each day leading up to the race. If you’re not recoiling, you should be. That is a massive number. But I’ve stuck with his plan so far, so to question it now would be a little self-defeating. Gotta embrace it. Excuse me, I’ve got to eat another bagel.

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The Plan
The course
The race is the Bay State Marathon in Lowell, MA, about an hour north/northwest of Boston. The course runs through downtown Lowell and a neighboring town and mostly hugs the Merrimack River.

I’ve scouted the course (thank you Google street view) and made sure I’ve read through the athlete guide so I don’t have any surprises race morning. Anything to reduce the race day stress.

This race is a big BQ qualifier (no, I’m not attempting to qualify, it’s flattering you ask) and is flat (really flat) and, hopefully for me, fast. The total gain is less than 200 feet over the duration of the race. No complaints there.

The one thing I am definitely changing from a few weeks ago, is to be almost obnoxiously early. I definitely felt a little sluggish in the half-marathon by skipping the pre-race warm-up routines that I’ve been doing during this whole training set. I do not want to miss those on Sunday.


The nutrition

Given how well the half-marathon rehearsal went, I’m going to largely stick with the same plan for race morning nutrition. One cup of coffee, white rice cereal with honey and almond butter then water on the drive to the race before sipping on a pre-run energy drink and maybe some Amrita bar depending on how I’m feeling. It worked for the half and worked during my weekly long runs. I’m not deviating now.

During the run, I plan to carry some dates, four gels and a pack of lemon-lime Clif shots in my race belt. I’m going to try to get 100 calories an hour. The race has aid stations every 1.5 miles or so with water and Gatorade and I can supplement my own gels with race gels at mile 7 or 17.

The health
After practically bathing in Purell and being terrified of falling off a curb and twisting my ankle, I’ve managed to get through the last two weeks injury free. I’m still nursing a mild case of plantar fasciitis (self-diagnosed), but it actually bothers me more when I’m walking and going about my day than when I’m running. I hope that remains the case on Sunday. It will definitely be something I’m going to have rehab in the off-season, but there’s nothing I can do other than continue to ice, stretch and roll it until the race. Overall, I fell about as healthy as I could be after 20 weeks of hard training.

The pace
I know I need to go out very conservatively. For the first five miles I want to put a floor on my pace of no faster than 8:00. I know from a couple tough long runs that burning those matches with a 7:40 mile early will just kill you on the back half. The plan would then be to slowly (are you listening Mike, slowly!) ease into the race pace with the next ten miles between 7:50 and 7:55 and try to hold onto that good, I-can-keep-this-up-forever feeling for as long as possible. If I can hit 20 miles still hitting 7:50s, I plan to loosen up and just run the last six as fast I as I possible can.

In short, do the first third with my watch, the second third by feel and the last third with heart.

The weather
Finally, the weather, something completely out of my control, but something I’ve been compulsively checking six times a day anyway. Right now, it looks good, high of 59 and partly cloudy. Perfect marathon weather.

The Goals
1. Finish
2. Finish without walking
3. Finish in under 3:30
4. Run my own race
5. Finish strong
6. Smile/Have fun



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