Even the best and most experienced of runners can get the jitters as the big race day approaches. The Vedanta Delhi Half Marathon is just days away, on 16 October, and many might be feeling the pressure with just under a week to go till race day. In a situation like this, many runners make the error of trying to release this pressure by going for training runs. Seasoned runners and running coaches say that doing so has a detrimental effect on race preparation. It does more harm than good for your performance on race day, as your legs and body aren’t as fresh as they ought to be.
A good training plan for any race always involves a tapering off in the volume and intensity of training the closer you get to race day. This basically means reducing your running mileage and frequency. “While training, we generally build up our mileage, increasing it week on week. This leaves our body fatigued and doesn’t give it enough time to recover,” says New Delhi-based Tarun Walecha, 52, who has been running for 12 years. “One must cut down on weekly mileage and also intensity of workouts about one to two weeks before race day.”
Doing this allows the high fatigue levels accumulated over weeks of training to dissipate. This helps athletes feel fit and fresh for the race, explains Pallavi Aga, 50, who has been a runner for six years. “Tapering has to be done scientifically because too long a taper will lead to loss of sharpness and fitness while a short taper will lead to fatigue and increases the chances of injury. While different training taper protocols have different durations for a taper, some athletes feel better with a shorter taper,” says Aga, a resident of Noida, Uttar Pradesh.
Garima Dhamija, 49, who lives in Gurugram, Haryana, run the Berlin Marathon a few weeks ago. A veteran marathon runner, she believes that accurate tapering is also a useful way to retain fitness levels acquired during the months of training. “I personally do a 2-week taper. The first week of taper is to bring down the mileage. The second week of taper, which is the week leading to the race, is for getting over the training fatigue. A 30-minute run in the beginning of the week with a few quick surges keeps the legs sharp and an easy jog the day before race day keeps the blood flowing in the legs,” says Dhamija.
Along with the tapering, another thing that runners must pay attention to is their nutrition. The fuel that endurance athletes run on is carbohydrates, so it is very important for runners to build their carb reserves as race day approaches. Tapering and carb loading should begin simultaneously, says Aga. “Carb loading is the technique of filling muscles with glycogen prior to an athletic event that requires usage of carbohydrates for a prolonged time. This is usually done by increasing the consumption of carbohydrates,” she explains.
However, avoid processed carbohydrates and opt for complex carbohydrates like potatoes and rice. As the training component reduces, it is imperative to keep excess calories in check by cutting down on fat and, to some extent, protein. Fibrous carbohydrates should be avoided to prevent gastro-intestinal disturbances.
The best way to carb load in an Indian diet is by increasing the consumption of rice and potatoes; with sweet potatoes being an especially excellent option. “Protein intake in the form of eggs, paneer, chicken and fish is good during the carb loading phase. There are various techniques of carb loading depending upon whether one has a long or a short taper. People think that eating a heavy meal like paratha or cheesy pasta a night before race day is sufficient carb loading but that is not the scientific way and could lead to health issues on race day,” says Aga.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.