Let’s get ready to race! The last two weeks before Boston are a time to let the body and mind freshen up. This has been shown to help athletes peak for their goal race, which is why it’s called the peaking phase.
It’s an easy concept: You reduce your training volume as the race nears and the body restocks its energy stores and fully recovers from the previous weeks of hard training. Your mind also recharges so that on race day, you are physically and mentally ready to race your best.
But, there is an art and science to peaking properly. In this article, I’ll share my secrets to peaking for Boston.
Week 11 is like the “down” weeks you experienced every few weeks throughout this 12-week training cycle. You should reduce your training volume by around 20 percent compared to your normal weekly mileage. It’s helpful to maintain your frequency (i.e., run the same number of days per week) in this first peaking week so the reduction in training volume comes from running shorter on your run days than you normally would.
The only exception to the plan of running the same number of days per week is if you have an ache or pain that you are worried about. In this case, take an extra day off in Week 11 in addition to reducing your total training volume (and schedule a physical therapy or massage appointment if you haven’t already). This may mean your reduction is more like 25-30 percent but I like using this week as way to ramp up healing now that you have the big workouts behind you.
While reducing volume is one part of the peaking process, the other part is keeping your engine revved. This maintenance (or sometimes increase) in training intensity has been shown to help athletes peak on time. My experience has been that maintenance of training intensity is more for the mind than the body. If you back off your intensity and volume, your mind can become “soft” and you forget the toughness you’ve worked so hard to create with all the hard workouts over the previous weeks.
For Week 11, I advise one of two key workouts based on the type of runner you are. If you love steady, continuous workouts, then you should do a tempo run as your workout in Week 11. The goal here is not to run faster than previous tempo runs. The goal is more to see just how relaxed you can run at your tempo run pace. (See the McMillan Calculator to get your exact pace.)
In the peaking phase, we aren’t trying to build more fitness. We are trying to refine the fitness you have, and the fitter you are, the more careful you need to be in these last few workouts. Don’t leave your race in training!
If you are more of the speedster type and like repetitions and perform better in shorter races, I suggest you skip the tempo run and instead perform a tempo interval workout. Again, don’t push too hard—just get in a solid workout. Run as relaxed and smoothly as possible.
For your long run, I’ve had great success with an easy six miles followed by six miles at goal marathon pace (12 miles total) 7-9 days before the race. You get in a few miles to keep your body in the usual weekend long run rhythm but it’s shorter than your previous long runs so you recover quickly. As a bonus, you get the chance to again practice your goal pace and your equipment and nutrition during this last long run. This seems to work well to keep runners from doing too much but also helps them put the finishing touches on their race practice.
Workout No. 1 (endurance-oriented runners): Tempo Run. Warm up with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging, then run a 3-5 mile tempo run. Cool down with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging.
Workout No. 1 (speed-oriented runners): Tempo Intervals. Warm up with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging, then run tempo intervals of 3 x 2000 meters with 400 meters jogging recovery between reps. Cool down with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging.
Workout No. 2 (advanced runners, early in week): Fartlek. Warm up with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging, then run a light fartlek of 6-8 x 1:00 at around 5K effort followed by a 1:00 recovery jog. Cool down with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging.
Long Run: 12 miles. Run 6 miles at your long run pace then run you final 6 miles at goal marathon pace
Race week continues our freshening up of body and mind as we head toward marathon Monday. You should again reduce your volume by another 10-20 percent for the days leading in to the marathon. Note that your total for the week will be quite a bit lower than your previous week since you won’t have the long run or the marathon (due to the Monday race day) so focus less on the reduction in total mileage for the week and more on the reduction in daily volume. And, really taper down the last few days before the race. I like to run 20 minutes or so the day before the race (Sunday) and 20-30 minutes two days before the race (Saturday).
For workouts, again, I think there are two different optimal workouts depending on your runner type. If you are the endurance monster type, then do another tempo run. If you are more of a speedster, then do cruise intervals. Both work great to give you just enough of a stimulus on race week but not too much.
Workout No. 1 (endurance-oriented runners): Tempo Run. Warm up with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging then run a 2-3 mile tempo run. Cool down with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging.
Workout No. 1 (speed-oriented runners): Cruise Intervals. Warm up with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging, then run cruise intervals of 4-5 x 1000 meters with 200-400 meters of jogging recovery between reps. Cool down with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging.
Workout No. 2 (advanced runners, early in week): Light Fartlek. Warm up with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging, then run a light strides workout of 6-8 x 20-30 seconds at around 5K effort followed by 1:00 of jogging recovery. Cool down with 10-20 minutes of easy jogging.
After each run this week, feel free to do a few strides (50-100 meters accelerations at just faster than 5K pace) if you feel you need some faster work to burn off excess energy during the peaking phase. As always, don’t over do it but if it feels good, it’s probably good for you.
Assignment 1: Race Plan
You’ve probably been thinking about your race plan for weeks and now’s the time to write it down. Plan out your strategy—your goal pace, your nutrition plan, your pre-race timing, etc. My experience has been that most runners make smart race plans. A week or two from the race, they are very objective. They use what they learned in training and come up with a sound plan.
My experience has also been that those that stick with that race plan have a better chance of success on marathon day, particularly at Boston. Sure, you may have to modify slightly based on the marathon day but runners who stick with their plan, usually run well.
On the other hand, those that abandon their race plan because they feel so good in those first few downhill miles and start running much faster than the plan are the ones that really struggle at Boston.
Assignment 2: Weather Watch
Due to Boston’s point-to-point route and the nature of spring in New England, keep an eye on the weather. This will help you determine the equipment you’ll need while waiting at the starting line, what pace adjustments need to be made (particularly if there is a headwind or it will be hot), etc. Just remember that there is nothing we can do about the weather other than prepare as best we can. Don’t waste too much mental energy worrying about it.
Assignment 2: Nail down your logistics
As a point-to-point race, you will need to get to the starting line. That usually means a bus from downtown Boston to the starting area in Hopkinton. You should write out your race morning plan from waking up to starting the race. And, because there are a lot of rules and regulations on what you can and cannot bring to the starting area, you should read the race website closely. Plan it out so race morning is as stress free as it can be.
Assignment 3: Read Your “Go Me” List
Remember your “Go Me” list from the last article? Continue to read it every day or two so you can combat the usual pre-race doubts and nerves. These are normal feelings but I’ve found that successful runners are the ones that don’t live in that doubt for long. They re-direct and start thinking positive thoughts.
Peaking isn’t that complicated. But, many runners get it wrong. Many taper their training too much and then arrive feeling “flat” on race day. Many push too hard trying to prove to themselves that they are in shape (or to try to get even fitter). Still others freak out mentally and expend a lot of mental energy on negative thoughts. Some are hypersensitive to how they feel in the peaking phase and if they don’t feel amazing (often you actually don’t feel great in peaking workouts) or they focus on an ache or pain, they begin to doubt their abilities. All scenarios work against peaking on race day.
But, if you follow the guidelines in this article, I’m confident you will optimally rest your body and mind while keeping both building toward a peak performance.
Lastly, I want to thank all of your who have followed along with this article series. I’m honored to have played a small role in your preparation for Boston. I’m as excited as you are and can’t wait to get to Boston to cheer you on!