You can’t always win the race but you can win race week! The formula for a successful week of tapering before the big day involves several key components. We all seem to go with what works best for us, but at the end of the day, there are some tips you should be sure to hit on before you toe up to the starting line.
I’ve got a half Ironman this weekend. This Sunday, June 21st, I’ll be racing Ironman Syracuse 70.3. That’s 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of riding, and 13.1 miles of running. With the hilly course being one of the toughest out there, I’ve got my work cut out for me. And to be quite honest, I’m a bit nervous, despite my consistent training. That’s why I need to get my head and my body in the game before that game begins...
You hear it all the time: hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! And that’s because it is one of the most important things to do leading up to your big day - no matter the type of race or time of year. And yes, this generally means WATER. Alcohol consumption should have ceased weeks, even months before a race, and soda and sugary fruit juices…well, you should know better. Keep a bottle of aqua by your side all day long. Wake up, drink, exercise, drink, eat, drink….drink, drink, drink. If you’re not going to the bathroom more than a handful of times a day, you’re not consuming enough. (OH and let’s be honest - the color of your urine says it all. You want lemonade (barely), not apple juice!)
Your food choices are so key this week. You know what your body responds best to. Do you have a plan in place to feed it well? Generally, that means give it all the nutrients (not bacon) it deserves. Stick to the cleanest foods you can find, and say no to condiments and sticky eats. A lot of dairy can lead to digestive issues, so steer clear of too much cheese and creamy dressings. Earth food is essential: stick to fresh fruits, veggies, beans, potatoes, and leave off the fatty oils and additives. Steer clear of packaged foods with unknown ingredients and say no to sugary foods, especially if they're not from natural sources. Protein sources are important as you’re still active this week, but stay lean with eggs, chicken, turkey or fish. And don’t be afraid of some healthy fibers! Apples, sprouted grains, oatmeal, black beans, edamame, and avocado are a handful of my go-to’s. Remember to think of your body as an engine...wouldn't you want to fill that tank with the cleanest fuel? You want to run on the best of the best, so give your machine what it needs to go the distance. The day before race day, stick to what works (and don’t get caught up in other people’s plan!)
So-Long Social Life
It’s simple, folks…the social calendar needs to be cleared this week. Your focus is on your big day and being a little selfish. Don’t have any shame in that, because you’ve worked hard to do something great, so you deserve every bit of down time to properly prepare. If someone gives you a hard time, rethink that relationship. Your support systems really show their true colors this week. Hopefully they’re rallying for you and not helping you to make bad decisions. Set up dates for next week; you’ll have less worry and more to celebrate!
Easier said than done, I know. But if planned accordingly, you can arrange to have those adequate hours of sleep you so well deserve. If you said goodbye to social activities this week, and you pre-planned your dinner, then you should come home, get cozy and start the unwinding process. Sleep is something your body so desperately needs to operate efficiently, especially for bodies that are pushing limits and experience muscle fatigue. If falling asleep is tough, tap into backup options: download a meditation app, read a book, or engage in some pre-bedtime stretching to relax your muscles and get them back to their resting state.
If you’re a guy - this most likely will not pertain to you. But for those of us that wear high heels to work, time to adjust the closet this week. Wearing heels has proved to be incredibly painful and causes long-term side effects. The last thing you need for race day is a new heel, toe, shin, knee, calf pain - or a twisted ankle! Eek! So re-arrange your wardrobe this week and if you can’t avoid the heels around the office, at least bring a backup of sneakers or comfy flats to wear under your desk. Your feet need all the love they can get this week.
Back on the subject of feet-love. If you really want to take care of yourself, you’ll make sure that you’re tending to your injuries (if any) and icing those unruly spots on your body. For most of us, that from the knee down. Ice your pain, elevate it, and get that blood flowing again. It’s also so important to take a few minutes to spend some one-on-one time with your foam roller (or runner’s stick). Self Myofascial Release (foam rolling) helps relieve muscle tightness, and increase flexibility and overall performance. It’s important to do this before and after physical activity, but after a long day of working and being on your feet, it can be just as crucial to get your muscles back on the straight and narrow…literally.
I should take my own advice here. Packing days ahead of an event is probably much smarter than the night before you leave for a race weekend. During packing, you generally find items you’ve mis-placed or nutrition you forgot to load up on. Having a checklist is your best bet here - something you can always go back to when race weeks arrive. If you pay attention to my Instagram posts, you’ll notice my gear spreads…which are fun to photograph but they mainly serve a bigger purpose. Seeing all of the items before me helps to identify what I may be missing. Overpacking is bound to happen and it’s better to go wild then scratch the surface and forget an essential - like goggles...or worse, sneakers.
You’ve got a training plan this week, I’m sure. Stick to it, but listen to your body along the way. Injury is not in the cards this week, so don’t overdo it. If you feel fatigue, dehydration, and/or pain, stop and tend to it. You’ve trained hard enough that you’ve got this even if a day or two does fall off. Come race day, you’ll feel glad you took care of yourself to get you back your A game.
Review Your Course
It’s all in your head. Those hills, that open body of water, that 26 miles of highway. If you’re fearful, maybe you don’t know enough. Do your homework and go to your race site. I’ve gotten into the habit of downloading my course maps, watching videos, reading reviews, and most importantly- understanding what is in front of me. Too often we fear the unknown, so why not make it our best friend? I’d rather know about that hill at mile 20 and save my strength, then be surprised at the sight of it. Know before you go. And then when you go, absolutely show that course who’s boss.
Go on, win this week. And before you know it, that medal will be ‘round your neck, with beer back in hand.