How to taper for your race
Having competed in the Olympics and world championships, rower-turned-triathlete Toby Garbett is ideally placed to advise on how to get to the startline of your race in the best shape possible. Here he focuses on half marathons but the tips can be employed across most running distances.
In the week before your event be sure to ease off on your training as follows...
Taper to the tape
A half marathon is like preparing for exams, you can’t try to cram at the last minute - but you can improve your performance with the right revision. Make sure you taper off, and do slightly less mileage and time on the road in the countdown to the half marathon. You feel you can do more but you want to store up that energy and be full of beans on the day.
If you get your taper right, and you have a healthy diet with a good balance of carbohydrates, proteins and antioxidants - fruit and vegetables - you are going to be burning fewer calories. If you carry on with the same diet as you taper off your training, you ought to carb-load naturally without having to eat more.
On the day itself, Toby advises the following regime...
Get everything ready ahead of time, including a bag with all the things that you will want at the finish line. Hunt out an old jumper that you can just dump at the start - everything that’s left usually goes to charity. Or failing that, a plastic bin liner with a couple of holes will help keep you warm.
You don’t want to be stressed or rushed on race morning. Work back from the race start and plan your schedule. You can never avoid the queues for the toilets, so allow plenty of time and assume you will have to wait 30 minutes.
Hold your nerve
You might be nervous. As an athlete I had to deal with it all the time and I used to try to subdue my nerves. But what I worked out with the Team GB psychologist is that I performed at my best when I was most nervous. Nerves are a good thing - it means the race means something to you. Don’t be worried by nerves, they are there for a reason.
Don’t forget to warm up
It’s crucial to make sure your muscles are properly warmed up to prepare your body for a long run. It’s crazy to try to work muscles that are cold and sluggish and flexibility is impaired. Deep Heat Muscle Massage Roll-on Lotion is really useful and a must for your on-the-day kit. Start by massaging the lotion into all the main muscle groups to increase blood flow and loosen and soften muscles. I have quite tight calf muscles and I use the roll-on to really target the tension and stretch out any knots.
Stretch things out
For a half marathon do standing leg swings to get a nice stretch through the hip flexors and hamstrings. Leg swings across the body work the inner thighs and hip. Deep lunges with your hands on hips are also good.
And when you've crossed the finish line, Toby strongly recommends making time for a few more crucial steps which will make a massive difference to your recovery...
This stretches out lactic acid. Focus on trouble spots like calves, quads and hamstrings. Aim for more passive stretches where you hold the stretch until the muscle releases. If you are very flexible this might be 30 seconds, others might need a couple of minutes. Do these stretches in the days afterwards too.
Make sure you get proteins within 30 minutes because that’s when your immune system is at its lowest ebb and protein is also important for muscle repair and recovery. You might want to think about topping up on vitamin D, too.
If you experience an injury don’t forget to use the P.R.I.C.E method (Protect, Rest, ICE, Compress and Elevate), this can help minimise damage, reduce recovery time and provide fast pain relief. I like to use the Deep Freeze Pain Relief Cold Gel as soon as I’ve finished the race if I am experiencing an injury. You can even try a cold bath, if you’re brave enough.
Even if you feel really good after a half marathon, don’t be encouraged to go for a difficult or long run for at least a day or two. There have been times when I have wanted to go running and sure enough I have ended up injuring myself. Take around two weeks off from intensive training, depending on what type of athlete you are. You have done a lot, it’s a lot of impact, be respectful to your body.