The final weeks: tips from coach Nick Anderson
A few weeks back we met running coach Nick Anderson at the Vitality Brighton Half Marathon training day organised by our headline charity Laureus. With race day on the horizon, read Nick’s tips for the final few weeks of training to make sure you stand on the start line on 22 February in peak fitness.
4 Weeks out
- This is when the gremlins starting talking to you – ‘have you done enough training?’, ‘should you squeeze in one more 2 hour run?’, ‘do I need to make up for that week I missed when I had a cold?’. These are common worries in the final weeks but eventually less becomes more. It’s time to let the body start to recover and build its strength for race day.
- The training you do today takes 2-3 weeks to have a real long-term effect on fitness so you can see immediately that 2 weeks out from a half marathon we can reach a point of diminishing returns if you are not careful.
- Focus now on protecting your fitness and feeling great on race day. You can use the final weeks to sharpen up slightly with a couple of shorter faster sessions and even a 5k parkrun.
- Your longest half marathon training run should be 3 or 4 weeks out from race day. A top session could be 90 minutes – 2 hours with the last 30 mins at your target race pace.
- Two weekends before, reduce this long run to 75-90 minutes.
- One week before it’s time to run just 60-70 minutes easy and enjoy the Sunday papers!
- All your other training needs to remain the same 3 weeks out, though do have a couple of easy or rest days after that longest run.
- Your last key harder session should be about 10 days before race day. For example: 45-60 minutes with 6 x 5 mins @ threshold off a 60s jog recovery; 15 minutes half marathon pace + 5 x 2 mins @ 5k pace + 15 mins half marathon pace all with a 2 min jog recovery; 45 minutes with 8 x 3 mins @ with the odd numbers at threshold, even at 5km pace off a 90 second jog recovery.
One week away
- The final week is a crucial time. All those tough weeks of training need to count so look after yourself and your body.
- Our big tip is don’t taper too much… yes, you can have too many rest days and then feel sluggish by race day.
- Your body loves routine so try for a 30 minute easy and relaxed run on the same days you would normally run, chatting with mates or along a favourite route.
- Don’t chase time or worry about the GPS stats, just run easy and keep relaxed.
- If you feel strong then consider a light session on the Tuesday; for example 30 minutes including 3 x 5 mins at threshold or your marathon pace with a 2 minute jog as recovery. You are just keeping your legs used to a little pace and feeling faster.
- We often advise runners to jog for 10-20 mins the day before the race and stretch. It helps you to feel loose on race day and can calm the nerves a little. However, always practise what you are used to in race week and the day before. If you usually rest then definitely do this.
- Let’s be totally honest here, the nerves will kick in at some point – this is a good thing. It’s totally normal but we need to get things in perspective. Take time out in the week at some point and review your training over a coffee. Remember your best long runs, sessions and maybe a 10k that went well.
- It’s time to remember the positives and you can draw on these on race day. Surround yourself with positive, supportive people and those that enjoy the challenge and are excited by the thought of race day.
- Sleep and rest – you always need to respect this key element as a runner if you want to improve. Try to get a few early nights in race week and definitely protect that immune system in the final weeks, as late nights and picking up a cold will wreck race day.
- Avoid heavy strength and conditioning or gym work this week and don’t fall into the trap of using all that extra time to start DIY projects or go sightseeing in town and tiring your legs out!
- Plan your travel on race day with a few days to spare.
Nutrition – getting it right in the last week
- We see so many runners getting this wrong during the taper and ruining months of hard work. It’s all actually really simple – just eat normally and gradually reduce the volume and intensity of your training – this is a natural carb load.
- Your body needs the quality calories to keep your glycogen (carbohydrate stores) topped up so you feel great in training and on race day.
- Our simple catch phrase is ‘never hungry, never over full’ and grazing throughout the day with snacks and sensible main meals will work well.
- Eat your normal pre-race or pre- long run breakfast. Don’t suddenly change what has worked so well for you in training.
- You want your body to feel normal and comfortable on the start line so now is not the time to suddenly try porridge or some wonder meal if you are not used to it.
- Don’t stuff yourself silly on the night before the race; it will only leave you feeling sluggish on race day.
The final 24 hours
- Consider a light 15-20 minute jog in the morning the day before the race to help ease tension and to warm up before stretching.
- Take a look at the weather forecast for race day and wear whatever is going to keep you cool and comfortable.
- Pack your kit bag with all that you will need on race day – safety pins for your race number, warm clothes, toilet paper, Vaseline, snacks, fluids and iPod and ensure your number is pinned to your vest.
- Avoid spending ages on your feet walking with family and friends sightseeing around the city.
- Snack on small meals throughout the day and stay well hydrated.
- Eat your last main meal at 6-7pm and snack on easily digested carbohydrate snacks afterwards if needed.
- Get to bed early. If you find it hard to sleep, don’t worry – this is normal but stay in bed and rest, read and relax.
- Wow it’s finally here – now it really is time to keep your head. Now’s the time to remember those three runs that went well in training or the cause and reason for which you are racing.
- Wake early, shower, and take a few moments to breathe deeply, relax and stay calm.
- Eat the race day breakfast you have practised in training 1.5 – 2 hours before the race start.
- Keep your kit simple and wear the shoes you ran your last few long runs or half marathons in and make sure any clothing has been worn and washed a few times before you race in it – don’t try anything new.
- Take a carbohydrate-based snack (for example a banana or energy bar) and sports drink to snack on between breakfast and the race start and be prepared with fuel in case of a delayed start.
- Look around you and focus in on the target you have set. Remember your pace, split times and don’t rely on your GPS – they often fail with so many signals in the same area. Have your splits per mile written on your hand, arm in permanent ink or on a wristband.
- Sip your final mouthfuls of water/sports drink but don’t take on more than normal, you don’t need it.
- Don’t run to warm up or do any high intensity drills – save your energy and use the first few miles to warm up.
- Hand your kit in and perhaps have an old tracksuit and bin liner or previous race foil blanket on to stay warm, and head to your pen 20-30 minutes before the start. In the final minutes take your old kit off.
Your race strategy
- As the gun goes, count to 10 and slow down if you are on a faster start…. you really need to ease into your race day pace in the first few kms rather than running too quickly.
- Run at the pace you have practised. After building into your target pace you should then look to lock into the km or mile splits that became familiar to you in the marathon pace sessions and longer runs.
- Definitely don’t try to bank faster miles and get ahead of the schedule. This is a sure way to guarantee hitting the wall in the final third of the race and you are using up those carbohydrate stores too quickly.
- Perhaps try running a touch under your half marathon pace in the first 5k, then at your planned mp for the middle 10k and then throw the kitchen sink at it over the last 6k.
- Sip on a sports drink and/or water occasionally in the race. You don’t need too much and be sure to not over-drink on the way round.
- Remember to smile, take time to relax and draw in the atmosphere – half marathon memories last a lifetime.
Taper well and remember… less can be more!
Good luck everybody!
You can keep in touch with Nick and RunningWithUs at: