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Monday, September 19, 2011

Law 13: Rest Before a Big Race

Did you know that benefits of tapering before a marathon were introduced to recreational running community only about 20 years ago? In the 90s more and more experienced coaches started sharing their knowledge with increasing number of recreational marathon runners and finally the word got out: take a rest before a race. 
Even until the early 60s, the majority of elite marathon runners believed that training hard till the last day would benefit their performance on a competition day. It was quite common to go for a fast 20K+ long-run even a day before a race.  Importance of rest before competition was noticed sporadically on some occasions, one notable example, later named Zatopek Phenomenon, occurred before 1950 European Games. Emil Zatopek trained very intensively, but got sick and had to be hospitalized for two weeks. He was released 2 days before competing in 10,000 m which he won by a full lap. A few days later he won 5,000 m by 23 seconds. His convincing success was attributed to the enforced rest in a hospital prior to the games.
Nowadays, almost every marathon training book has a chapter about tapering.  I listed some key points Hal Higdon offers in his book: Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide
  • Taper is mentally difficult.  Doing nothing is not easy after several weeks of intensive training; use this time to catch-up on things that were put on a back burner during your training.
  • Cut total mileage. For the last 2 to 3 weeks total mileage doesn’t count , it may hinder your performance. A simple way to reduce mileage is to reduce number of times you run by eliminating easy days
    • 3 weeks before a race reduce mileage to 75%
    • 2 weeks before a race reduce mileage to 50%
    • 1 week before a race reduce mileage to 25%
  • Cut distance not intensity. Reducing distance doesn’t mean you need to slow down. You need to train at or near race pace on your tempo runs and interval training.
  • Cut the lifting. Stop weight lifting to reduce chance of injury.
  • Cut back on calories. Watch out what you eat, when you’re running less you’re also burning fewer calories.
  • Change Diet. Start carbo-loading 7 days in advance of the race.
  • Skip Cross-Training. Don’t cross train in the last week  prior to the race.
Hopefully, by following these simple rules you’ll increase your chances of reaching your ecstatic goal in coming races in Victoria, Chicago, Lake Garda, Portland, New York or Sacramento.

Run Strong!

Friday, September 2, 2011

How to manage expectations?

Before my race in Chicago last October, a friend of mine told me to have three time goals in mind: “Ecstatic”, “OK” and “Pissed-off”. She was prepping me to manage my high expectations and post-race feelings that quite often are the hardest aspect of recreational competitive running or any other activity where massive amount of training and complete commitment is involved. We go through physical pain, put relationships at risk, give up TV, buy coconut water, grind flax seeds, spent fortune on massage therapy and do all sorts of crazy things only to shave-off few minutes, reach a new PB or get a qualifying time. And when you invest so much it is only fair to expect a payback. But sometimes this payback is less than what we expected. Mine in Chicago last October was in “OK” category, a category that offers some consolation and gives a little bit of satisfaction, sort of like a bronze medal. My finish time of 3:03 was a New York Marathon qualifier and should have been a great reason to celebrate, right? Well … I just missed my “ecstatic” goal by three minutes. 

After the race, my friend texted me: “I know what you think. Forget it. You ran an amazing race”. Yes, I did but only for the first 23 miles. Then I hit the wall and the last 3.2 miles were brutally painful and slow. There were many pretty good excuses I could have used: stomach flu and lack of appetite before the race, or unusual humidity and heat close to 30C on a race day. But eventually you need to face the facts. The time of 3:03 was ruthlessly honest. It was a good time by any standards especially for 44-year old, but it wasn’t good enough for me. And it doesn’t matter how many messages you get on your Facebook wall from your friends congratulating you on your achievement. Deep down I knew I was disappointed. This disappointment is all gone now, but only after another 6-month long block of hard training, countless boring hours on a treadmill, and unforgettable race in Eugene in May when finally all stars were aligned and Running Gods helped me reach my goal. There is no doubt in my mind that this day will also come soon for my friend Geoff who finished an amazing Ironman race under 11 hours; an excellent time that just happened to be “an inch” short of his own high expectations. 

Many of you are getting ready for a 25k benchmark run to evaluate your readiness before a race coming in October. Running comfortably for 16 miles at a new target pace four weeks before a race is according to many coaches a pretty good indicator whether you can sustain this pace for 26.2 miles. Weeks of training, tapering and carb loading will give your this extra oomph on a race day. Use this benchmark run to set three goals to manage your own expectations before, during and after a race to achieve the ultimate goal: running with joy and having fun. 

Run Strong!


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