In order to best prepare yourself for an upcoming race, it might not be a bad idea to run that race each week of your training period; or rather treat your long run and the preparation for that run as if it was your race.
Actually, running your race each week is a bit of hyperbole, but treating each week of training like you are preparing for a race on the weekend is not such a far-fetched undertaking. Not only will you be better prepared for race day physically, but you will also be better prepared mentally.
Regardless of the race distance for which you are training, you can easily prepare for race day as if it was the end of each week of training. Even if this week’s upcoming long run for your marathon is only 5 miles, it will still give you the opportunity to practice for race day in regard to what you eat and how you train. You will have the chance to see what type of training, what amount of training, what amount of rest and what nutrition works best for you, and conversely, what does NOT work best for you. Each of us is unique and while the training program you are following or the coach you are listening to may prescribe a certain amount of time on your feet or the necessary time you rest, that advice may need to be tweaked to fit your individual needs.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of helping a wide variety of people train for his or her first marathon. And I have had the further pleasure of learning quite a few different training techniques that either worked or did not. One runner found that dancing until 4:00 am the night before a long run took her mind off the upcoming sunrise run; while another runner found that a night before the run meal of shrimp cocktails and other cocktails was not the best carbo-loading option available. Many runners have found that they are not able to run without an eye-opening cup of coffee while just as many prefer to wait until after their run to indulge in any sort of adult beverage.
The above examples may not fit your training program or lifestyle, but training for a distance race is much more than logging mile after endless mile to eventually convince your body that you want to run a marathon. Take the time during training to determine what works best for you in all aspects of training. Should I run three or four times a week plus a weekly long run? How much rest do I need after my long run or prior to the next one? What should I eat the night or two before my long run? Should I eat a light breakfast before my long run or simply rely on energy gels to complete the effort? Coffee first or just beer after?
All of these questions and more can best be answered by experimenting during your training. Try different ideas on training and nutrition throughout your training period; tinkering with one element here and there until you discover a formula you are comfortable with and which works best for you. You can even incorporate your training experiments into your daily routine if you would prefer to test something out with a short run versus undertaking a new endeavor during a weekly long run. It is these weekday runs or shorter long runs early in training where you will want to hone your skills in finding out the best formula for you to succeed.
Better to determine on a shorter long run that your best friend’s favorite energy gel makes your stomach queasy than to make that determination in the middle of a marathon. The experiments you undertake during training will pay off greatly for you during your upcoming race physically, as well as provide you with peace of mind and a boost in your confidence that you will accomplish your goals on your way to the finish line.
Have fun with your training, but remember the best way to prepare for race day is find out what works best for you BEFORE race day.
Richard Stark is the founder and head running coach of Running Arizona with more than a dozen years coaching experience and the pleasure of having worked with and learned from nearly 1,000 runners in that time.