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What to do the Week of a Big Race

4 more days.  That’s all that separates me from the Cox Providence {Half} Marathon.

big_city_1 Providence By Night

While my training has been less than optimal, and I still don’t actually know whether I’m running the half or the full marathon (I never heard back from the race organizers about switching my event.  So…come Sunday, I may be running the full 26.2 after all!), at this point there’s not much to do but focus on being positive and preparing myself the best way I know how.

Whether you’re running your first 5K or your 100th marathon, race day prep doesn’t just happen the night before. Chances are, you’ve been thinking about and preparing for the race for a long time.  So use the week leading up to the big day to make sure you are ready to run your best race possible.

There are a few key things you should focus on this week: Resting, Eating, Hydrating, and Visualizing.  Enter the “HOTR HEVR” method of race-week prep!

The HOTR-HEVR Guide to Race Week Prep

H = Hydrate!

waterbottleclosedIt’s super important to make sure you are fully hydrated on race day.  But it’s not enough to just chug water the day before — your body won’t be able to absorb all of it.  Instead, focus on providing your body with a steady source of fluids.  If you don’t normally drink a lot of water, start gradually increasing your intake at the beginning of the week.  The goal is to drink enough fluid so that your urine is almost clear.  If you have a hard time remembering to drink water regularly, get yourself a fun water bottle!!  Or…you can try this strategy: for the 3 or so days before, set your watch for 1 hour intervals.  Every time the watch goes off, drink 8 ounces of water (or other fluid of choice).  While you can certainly get away with drinking less if your race is short, this is especially important in any race where you will be running for more than 1 hour.

Also… It’s probably best to start “tapering” your fluid intake around 2 hours before bed…unless you want to be getting up all night long!

E = Eat!

I’m not going to go into a ton of detail here, but the trick to race week nutrition is to eat enough of the right foods…without over-eating.  This is especially important because you’ll be resting (more on that later), so you don’t want to consume so many calories that it can contribute to some pre-race weight gain.  That being said, this is not the week to “diet” or cut back to lose those few extra pounds before race day.  You want to make sure your body has enough fuel to get you through the big event!

Again, being careful of what you eat all week long is a bit more important for longer races than a 5K, but here are the basics you need to know.

Complex carbohydrates are your best friend.  No, this doesn’t mean you should consume massive quantities of pasta (cake) every time you sit down to eat.

pasta_tiwyf (Source: thisiswhyyourfat.com)

You don’t want to throw your body into shock…which could result in digestive problems later.  Instead, aim for moderate amounts of carbs at every meal.  Foods like oatmeal, banoatcakes, bagels, pasta, and potatoes are great and will help you get (and keep!) your glycogen stores up.  Make sure to also eat a moderate amount of protein and a lot of fruits and veggies {though you may want to avoid eating these in large amounts the night before.  Let’s just say racing can already work a number on your digestive system.  You don’t need to complicate it with all that extra “roughage…”}.

IMG_1792Banoatcakes (banana oat pancakes) topped with Greek yogurt, mixed berries and maple syrup

DSC_0021 Egg sandwich topped with a little shredded parm and mixed greens on a bagel

Try to limit fats.  This may be different than your normal eating pattern but believe me, you want more of the easily accessible fuel that carbohydrates provide.

Avoid Alcohol.  Yes, beer is a carbohydrate, but it’s also a diuretic and can dehydrate you.  I know I always have an “off-run” the day after drinking even one glass of beer/wine, so unless you’ve run successfully the day after drinking before, I’d recommend leaving the booze for the post-race celebration.

Avoid trying new foods.  I  know, I know – on Monday I challenged you to try new foods this week.  But that isn’t the wisest thing to do the week before a big run.  Instead, stick with your tried and true staples.  These are the things that you know won’t have any funky effects on your digestive system.

Also… It’s important not to let yourself get hungry in the few days leading up to a long race.  While this may sound like a great excuse to eat everything in sight, it just means that you need to be careful not to let your blood sugar drop and your carbohydrate/glycogen stores get used up.

V = Visualize!

Think positive!!  Remember your goals for your race, and spend your time visualizing them, thinking about how you want to run and what you will need to do to reach your goals.  It’s easy to let nerves and anxiety take over in the days leading up to the race, but never under-estimate the power of positive thinking.  If you feel more confident in yourself before the big day, chances are you’ll do better.

The other important part of visualization is to actually view the race course.  If you don’t live close enough to go for a walk/run along the course, look up the course map online and become familiar with the route and any hills, etc.  Sometimes sites will even provide you with a virtual tour.


Finally (and most importantly)…


Koli 002

Repeat after me: No workout I do this week is going to improve my race performance.

I mean it!

Fight the urge to squeeze in that last minute long-run or speed workout.  You’ve done your preparation. Pushing yourself hard this week will only result in making you more tired, and you risk getting injured.  Unless you’re an elite athlete, during pre-race week, you should definitely subscribe to the “less is more” mentality.

If you’ve been following a training schedule, it should have built in a couple of weeks of tapering, or cutting back on mileage.  Don’t let this decrease in physical activity drive you crazy – instead look at it as a time to relax and prepare yourself both physically and mentally.

The goal this week is just to keep your legs loose.  Go for short runs at a leisurely, enjoyable pace.  And if you skip one or two runs because you’re feeling over-tired, sore, or just need to walk your little puppy, don’t sweat it!

Koli 001Sometimes said puppy would rather walk YOU!Koli 007

I know some people like to take the day before a big race off, but I actually prefer to rest two days prior and then do a short run (2 – 3 miles) the day before just to get my legs moving.

Finally, resting also means making sure you get enough sleep!  For the past few weeks, I have only been averaging around 6.5 half hours of sleep a night, which is definitely not enough for me.  If I was really smart, I would have started gradually increasing the amount of sleep I got per night a couple of weeks ago, so that all this week I would be averaging 8.  Instead, I will just be focusing on getting a solid 7 – 8 hours every night until race day.  Last night I got about 7 – tonight I’ll be aiming for 8.

Koli 004

Also… Don’t expect to get a great night of sleep the night before the race.  Nerves about the race itself or about getting up in time can often lead to a restless night.  So instead, think of two nights before (so Friday if your race is on Sunday) as being your most important night of sleep.  And if you can’t sleep the night before, don’t stress it!  That will only make things worse.

Whew! That was one Marathon of a post! If you’ve made it this far, I hope you’ve gotten some useful tips out of it.  And as always, if you have any questions, comments…or even disagree with anything I’ve said here, please don’t hesitate to let me know!

20 Responses to What to do the Week of a Big Race

  1. hahaha aweeee look at everyone resting! too cute!

    great tips btw! im running a half marathon in a few months (this gives me lots of time to prepare and i will be using these tips)!

    i agree.. u’ll figure out the distance thats best for you! good luck ahead of time too just incase i forget to mention it. 😀 xoxo <3

  2. Love love love this post! I always have to remind myself the week before a race that resting is better than running. It’s a hard concept to get through your brain isn’t it?! Can’t wait to see whether you’re doing the full or half; either way it sounds like you’ll do great!

  3. It’s great to come across another vegetarian runner (via twitter)!

    This is my second marathon, and I’m taking preparations seriously this time! The water thing is key (but it’s really inconvenient to be running back and forth to the bathroom all the time!). I’ve also not had a drop of alcohol since Sunday.

    Good luck whichever race you end up running!
    .-= Kate (Embarrassment of Riches)´s last blog ..Peanut Butter & Co =-.

  4. These are great pre-race tips! I love your tip about complex carbs doesn’t mean packing in a ton of pasta or cake.
    .-= Lindsay´s last blog ..I’ve Died and Gone To Strawberry Heaven =-.

  5. Hey Lauren!

    Thank you for the lovely message you left on my blog. Comments like that make my day. :)

    And now I have a question for you: How do you own the cutest dog ever?

    I hope you KILL this race. 😀 Or at least, do your best. Because in the end, that’s all that is required of us. Right?

    Ha. Cheers
    Aletheia :-)

  6. Best of luck- cannot wait to read the recap :) And I can’t get enough of your puppers
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..Weekend Update (Including a Blogger Meet up!) =-.

  7. Thank you all for your kind words and “good lucks!!” I’ll definitely keep you posted about how it goes. :)

  8. This WAS incredibly useful. Thank you! I may be doing a race at the end of April and need all the help I can get – visualizing and doing the easy stuff like pre-race hydration (which brought me down last time) are key.

  9. Fantastic tips!! I usually do the same exact things :) Not eating new things & resting are the two most important for me- although resting is tough after you’ve been training so hard! :)

  10. AWESOME POST. i think all these rules are fabulous for getting ready for a race – especially the one about limiting fats. fats sit in my stomach horribly and are guaranteed to make for a painful run.

    yay yay yay for half (or full) marathon this weekend! send you lots of good running vibes!
    .-= holly (the healthy everythingtarian)´s last blog ..all these things that i’ve done =-.

  11. These are great tips! I definitely agree on the carbs thing…ESPECIALLY try & avoid protein. Every time I go a little “protein heavy” on a meal, I’m dragging like none other 😕

    Spaghetti cake…def. not going to help you hahaa
    .-= Danielle (Coffee Run)´s last blog ..Do the mash =-.

  12. Lauren this is great great advice! These kinds of tips are the perfect, honest, and important things that take people lots of races before they get the hang of them. You’ve broken it down so well. I also loove the pictures- especially the spaghetti bundt cake. Hilarious. That website is fabulous for the “wow factor!” Have a great day!!
    .-= Andrea @ CanYouStayForDinner.com´s last blog ..Chocolate Chip Nirvana =-.

  13. Found your blog on Running on Plants :) and these are great tips! I’m running my first marathon in October, so I’m a sponge right now when it comes to any race prep tips.

  14. your pup melts.my.heart. Seriously, I’m dying here at how cute Koli is. I can’t believe how much he looks like Maizey!!
    .-= Teri [a foodie stays fit]´s last blog ..Oh So Tempehting Quesadilla =-.

  15. Hey girl! I just found your blog and I like what you have been doing with it 😉 Thanks for the race week prep tips! Although I don’t race much, I still think those are great tips for any training event.

  16. thank you so much for your comment- im so glad you liked my gluten free guide. yes please show this to your coworker. i thin kthat is awesome news that you are going to try a gluten-free diet just to see if it makes a difference. have an awesome day <3 xoxo love
    .-= kelsey@snackingsquirrel.com´s last blog ..Gluten Free Guide =-.

  17. This is really a great post. Thanks so much for sharing. I’m going to have to bookmark it so I can read it and remind myself of these important tips before my half at the end of May.

  18. Great, common sense tips. Thanks for sharing!

  19. Running my first 5K this Sunday (Nov. 3, 2013). Could never run before (grew up with asthma and bad knees, therefore: no endurance or conditioning for long runs). Started training in June for the Pancreatic Action Network’s Purple Stride Puget Sound in Seattle (my dad died of pancreatic cancer in 2009, five weeks after being diagnosed – so I’m really mad at this disease! What a motivator!).

    So in my training I started out running for 30 seconds… then built up to a minute…then was thrilled to run FOUR WHOLE MINUTES without stopping (you get the idea, and the gravity of my situation)…

    Now I’m running a 12-minute mile (not consistently) or a 14-minute…or a 17-minute (depending on my food intake the day before)…

    Thanks for the tips. I’m absorbing every bit of info I can find. Haven’t done this enough to have a ‘typical’ or a routine, but I’m starting to feel like I’m almost a runner.

    Bagel with peanut butter, banana, gatorade for breakfast, at around 5a.m.
    NO COFFEE! Water.
    Maybe a tube of GU about an hour before the race.
    More water.

    Off we go.
    Thanks again — happy running!

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