Taper Madness

By Dr. Steve Smith, Pasadena Pacer Founder and Team Doc

You are about two weeks away from the Big Race. It has been months of early rising, suiting up in your running gear, and heading out the door with your hydration pack in hand. You’ve had to head back in the house more than once because you forgot something, forgot to ascertain the meeting location, or forgot to apply glide to that chaffing area you discovered a couple of weeks ago. You have your routine figured out, your gear has its own special place in your closet, and you no longer forget to charge your watch, your phone, or your iPod. You know how much nutrition you need and you have been taking your vitamins and eating just the right food. You look forward to seeing your friends on the training runs and by now, you have come to know little factoids about them all. Frankly, they are a bunch of real characters. Thank God you made it through the long runs and ‘Wow!’ what a feeling to be this fit. You could run forever if you wanted to, and it feels great. A 16-miler is no problem, not even a qualifier for a nap in the afternoon!

Now you are on easy street, no more long runs! It’s time to taper down and get ready for race day. Here are some tips on how to maintain the edge you have been honing over these last many months.

Getting ready for a big race is a lot like having a big party at your house. On the day of the party, you shouldn’t have anything to do except get dressed and receive your guests. No stress on the big day. The marathon is no different; have everything ready the weekend prior to the race. Then all you need to do is pick up your race packet and pin on your number. The week prior to the race is the no interference zone. No scheduled events, no meetings, no stress. Clear your schedule now and don’t say yes to do anything you don’t absolutely have to do. In the 10 days of no-interference you need to concentrate on your race and prepare yourself mentally.

Don’t get sick. This would be a bad time to catch a cold or the flu so avoid public places as much as possible. Wash your hands regularly and don’t make personal contact with people unless it is socially necessary. Shaking hands is an effective way to spread bacteria. Airplanes are loaded with bacteria-laden air, so stay away from them as much as you can. Don’t eat out: menus are almost never cleaned, and neither are salt and pepper shakers.

Don’t change your routine. Keep up your workouts and don’t pour on the speed just because you are backing down on your mileage. Stick to your plan, keep your mileage on target—don’t add to it or subtract from it.

Trim your toenails 10 days from race day, just in case you cut them too close and need time to heal up.

Now is the time to firm up your nutrition plan for the big race. By now you will have worked out how to supply your body with the best foods. Now all you have to do is get everything arranged ahead of time, so that the week before the race all you have to do is revel in the spirit of it.

Think about your shoes and equipment, new shoes are not a good idea within two weeks before the marathon. You should have at least one successful long run on your running shoes before you commit to racing in them. No new socks either.

Marathons bring about weird new chafe problems so bring chafe prevention with you on race day.

If it is going to be cold on race day, plan to bring disposable clothing to keep you warm before the start. If there is rain in the forecast, a drop bag with dry socks, maybe dry shoes can be made available at the 20-mile cheer station. Also, bring rain poncho in your hydration pack. Wear an extra layer that can be discarded if you become over heated.

If the race is going to be hot, plan for slower finish times. Plan for heat injury and increase water intake. Know the signs of heat injury and act accordingly if it happens to you. We have sent many runners to the hospital with heat injury, costing many thousands of dollars, lost time from work, and long recovery. Collapse and severe injury, including death is a risk.

Some runners will need anti-inflammatories in their kit as well. If you have trained with them, then plan on taking a couple with you.

The pre-race jitters affect many runners. Paranoia can set in and runners imagine injuries out of minor aches they wouldn’t have noticed a few weeks ago. If in doubt, get it looked at early with an experienced sports doc who knows how to make important “go/no-go decisions.”

During the race your photo will be taken. This may sound a bit selfish but you will want to look your best when passing the photographers, especially at the Pacer 20-mile cheer station. Keep your knees high, smile, and look directly at the camera during the photo. Keep your chest up, your chin up, and smile with your eyes. Looking like you are in pain, or an Olympic athlete at the finish of the hundred-meter event doesn’t usually look believable. Although you are totally awesome, you’re not that awesome so just keep your chest up, head up, knees up, and smile with your whole body.

Packet pick up day. This is a big day. Plan on going there with friends and spending time in the often-crowded halls with a zillion runners. They will have all manner of running stuff: gizmos you never could have imagined, beautiful clothes, shoes, socks, and things not yet seen in the running world. It’s an amazement and runners are on a high at the expo. They’ll buy anything at the expo. Remember, you got through your training without the new Expensemaster-Nine-Thousand-Deluxe-Super SpeedMiser-Electric-Running-Shoe-Whatchamacallit. You didn’t need it then and you don’t need it now, so put that credit card away.

If you purchase those new shorts, they will surely bunch up in your nether zone and cause a blister you cannot mention in polite company. Don’t try anything new. Don’t listen to “experts” because they will ruin your life. Stick to the plan you have been working and you’ll be fine. Oh, and no tape applied by the expert tape guy from the magic tape of the ancient wizards of the running universe.

Now is the time to firm up your plans for getting to and from the race. If the race is a straight-out distance, you will need to make special arrangements. For example, the LA Marathon requires you to be dropped off at the start line. Departure from the finish area is congested; you will be tired and may be sore or cramped up, so driving home is not a good idea—grab a friend to give you a ride. Getting back to Pasadena takes extra time, so make sure you have dry, warm clothes to change into. You may need food after your marathon. It will likely be at least two hours before you arrive home after the race, longer if you linger and socialize with friends.

Have a plan to meet up with your friends at the finish line. Pacers meet at the family meeting area “P.”

Keep in close touch with your running friends, give and receive encouragement, and be a team member. Keeping your spirits high will make you nearly impervious to illness.

Race day: Arrive early and revel in the radiance of it. Plan to give and receive hugs, lots of them. Get in your team photo. Did I mention get there early? Get there early and don’t miss the team photo. You’ll need time to locate the meeting place. Do the stretches with the Pacers, participate loud and proud on the traditional Pacer countdown.

On the course, the spectators will cheer for you. They mean it when they cheer for you! Return their enthusiasm with at least a smile. Say thank you to the volunteers at the water stations.

When you are near the finish line, the cheering will intensify, your pace will quicken and you will feel the impending victory. You are allowed to let your imagination run wild. It can be 2,500 years ago, you are Pheidippides nearing the Athens gate crying out, “We are victorious!” You are running the greatest race that has ever been run, and you are winning it!

It is a day to run with champions, because you, my friends, are all champions!