Recovery, Tapering and Race-day Preparation!
In our previous blog we discussed training loads and monitoring the stress these loads place on the body. This blog will address how we can adequately recover from training loads to ensure optimal adaptation and minimise risk of injury and illness. There are many novel ways that purport to maximise recovery, but we will focus primarily on one of the simplest and cheapest recovery modalities – sleep.
The most effective means of maximising recovery is quality sleep. When we sleep all the recovery and repair work takes place. Most hard-training athletes need on average 8 hours of quality sleep. Inadequate sleep can suppress immune system, distort hormonal balance, and prolong recovery among other things. It can have a significant impact on performance. A key point commonly highlighted by Dr Andy Franklyn Miller, Sports Medicine Physician at the Sports Surgery Clinic; is that sleep deprivation can increase rate of perceived exertion (RPE) by 17-19%.
In order to improve sleep we must improve our ‘sleep hygiene’ – a term commonly used to control all behavioural and environmental factors that affect or promote sleep. This means winding down an hour before bedtime. Reducing use of electronic devices, as bright lights can disrupt melatonin production, is recommended. This can be a difficult for those who are active on social media at night!
It is important to have a regular pattern of sleep – going to bed at the same time every night and waking at the same time each morning at least to within a narrow window. If we tend to go to bed and wake up much later on weekends, and shock the system again with an early start Monday morning, the circadian rhythm disruption can have impact negatively on training and recovery early in the week.
Tapering can be very much an individualised protocol but there are some broad principles that should be followed. Some athletes do not respond well initially to an acute reduction in training volume so the taper must be optimally timed. At some stage in the final 14 days there should be a taper with a reduction of in training between 40-60%. It is recommended that you maintain training intensity and frequency of training sessions – particularly those who train twice a day.
When training hard there is always a trade-off between fitness and fatigue. The accumulative fatigue of training tends to mask our true level of fitness. It is only when an athlete has had a recovery week or a tapering period when optimal fitness can be displayed. The risk of de-training and a reduction in performance can be present if the tapering period is too long and it is suggested that 8 to 14 days provides an optimum window between which fatigue disappears and de-training can take effect.
It is important to manage stress particularly outside of training. You should make some arrangements at work to make sure workload is manageable for those few days and the same at home. It may be good to do some social or leisure activities to help switch off from training and relax the mind. It is best not to think too much about the race in those final few days.
Have faith in the work you have done and trust your instincts on the day of the race to be able to handle any unforeseen challenge that you may encounter. There is a fine line between anxiety and relaxation. A little bit of nerves or anxiety is good, it shows that your body is ready for a big challenge; but if it is not managed it can consume too much energy and take away from your performance.
There has been much debate about carbo-loading among marathon runners, with the theory being that by increasing carbohydrate intake in the 2-3 days before a marathon, you will increase glycogen stores. This may not work for everybody. There is the risk of unwanted weight gain and gastro-intestinal issues. There is enough evidence to suggest that some moderate increase in carbohydrate intake in the day before a race is sufficient.
Remember that you have trained yourself to be metabolically efficient for a marathon with sufficient long runs and key workouts at the right intensities (see Blog 1). By tapering and not necessarily increasing carbohydrate intake, you will be increasing glycogen stores regardless. There is no need to overdo it.
It is important to have tried and practiced your race-day fuelling strategy in previous races and training sessions. Do not try some new drink or gel on the day of a race. Some sugar-based products can be too heavy on the stomach and difficult to digest. You should know the optimum mix for your drinks and how many gels you need to take during the race. Remember – less is more!
You should aim to get good quality sleep in the 2-3 nights before a race. Even if you don’t sleep well the night before, just relax and rest. Find something relaxing to think about! Have a good meal the evening before the race and follow your pre-race breakfast routine that you are accustomed to. You don’t need to eat too much at breakfast if you’ve have eaten sufficient the evening before. Don’t overhydrate either!
You may not realise it but you have already done most of the hardest work by committing yourself and preparing for the marathon. Enjoy the rewards for all that effort and set a bigger challenge for yourself next time!