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Twelve more days until the REVEL Canyon City Marathon! I’m in the thick of taper — or more accurately, the thin of taper as the training miles thin out and my muscles recover to get ready for race day. I used to hate taper and the nervous energy that comes with it, but I’ve learned a few tricks to harness that nervous energy and put it to productive use.

10 Productive Things to Do during Taper

1. Review the race course. Check out the course map online and look at the elevation profile.

With a net elevation loss of over 5,000 feet, here's hoping runners of the REVEL Canyon City Marathon did some downhill training in preparation for race day!

With a net elevation loss of over 5,000 feet, here’s hoping runners of the REVEL Canyon City Marathon did some downhill training in preparation for race day!

If it’s a smaller race or you’re hoping to be in the front of the pack (not me) make sure you know the turns. I’m lucky with the REVEL Canyon City Marathon because the directions are like, “Yo, run 23 miles down the mountain on route 39 and continue on Azusa Avenue.” It’s nearly impossible to get lost with just a few turns in the last two miles of the course.

2. Review your fueling strategy. Um, I confess I kind of failed on practicing my fueling strategy during training. I did try out a new fuel I’m very happy with — Honey Stinger Waffles. But after I signed up for REVEL Canyon City many months ago, I forgot all about checking the on-course fuel and I trained with Gatorade as my sports drink for the past six months. I just checked the course electrolyte drink and it’s not Gatorade — it’s PowerBar Perform. Oops. I’ve got just one more long run to test my tummy when I fuel with that. Fingers crossed.

3. Try out any new race gear, even if it’s the same brand/model you always use. I trained over the past few months with two pairs of Brooks Adrenaline 14s. They each have about 250 miles on them (which I know thanks to the Gear Tracker on MapMyRun.com) so I ordered up a new pair of Adrenalines for the race. I will put about 30-40 miles on them before race day just to make sure they fit the same and there are no flaws in the shoes (I’ve always been happy with Brooks but I have heard horror stories of people ordering the same brand and model of shoes they’ve always worn and finding problems with them). Plus I like to change out the laces with Lock Laces (see the link below to Marathon Tip #1: Fasten Your Shoes with Lock Laces) and test them out ahead of time to make sure the fit is right.

4. Decide if, when and how to carbo-load. The literature is unclear on whether carbo-loading really helps (especially for women) but in my personal experience I find it helps and certainly doesn’t hurt. In the three days before the marathon, I increase carbs to about 70% of my daily diet. That translates to 10 to 11 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight. I like to lay out a general plan of how to reach that total amount of carbohydrates because it’s harder than you think. Of course, every time I taper remind myself to write down that plan to save for next time, and every time I completely forget about it in the excitement leading up to and after race day. Maybe this time I’ll actually type my plan on the computer and keep it for Boston 2016!

5. Go over your travel and race day logistics. I did this yesterday and it eased my mind a lot. I wrote out directions to drive to the expo to pick up my bib and directions to the parking on race day. I gulped a little when I saw that I need to be at the marathon parking between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. to catch a bus for the one-hour ride up the mountain. That’s going to mean getting up around 3:45 a.m., getting to the parking at 4:30 or so, arriving at the start at Crystal Lake Cafe around 5:30 a.m., and being prepared to wait in the cold for an hour and half before the race starts at 7 a.m. Thankfully the race organizers provide coffee, hot chocolate, gloves, and mylar blankets at the start. I’m actually really excited to be racing in cool weather after months and months of training in the heat. I mean, come on, Southern California, 90 degrees for the high today on October 26? Have mercy on us!

6. Keep your family and friends involved. If the race offers real-time tracking, send out the link to track you on race day. Pick a place to meet your fellow runner friends at the start of the race and your loved ones at the finish. If you will not have support at the race (ugh, Santa Rosa Marathon — great race but I missed having someone there!), make sure you have a solid plan for recovering and getting back to your hotel or home safely.

7. Trim your nails a few days before the race but don’t go crazy with it! And leave those hard-earned calluses intact. You don’t want to end up with black toenails after the race, but you also don’t want to have sore toes or feet before the race.

8. Gather your gear and put together a checklist for race day. This post should probably be titled 11 Productive Things to Do during Taper because in order to gather your gear, you also need to check the weather for race day. I’m going with a short-sleeved technical tee and Saucony Bullet shorts. I’ll take a hat, sweatshirt and sweatpants with me to wear until it’s time to turn in my gear bag.

9. Write down your race goals. And notice how I said “goals” and not “goal.” I already laid out my race goals for REVEL Canyon City.

10. Visualize the race to boost your confidence and calm your nerves. I’m willing to bet that at some point all marathoners have that nightmare where they oversleep on race day or can’t find the starting line and they end up running around frantically, wasting energy they should be saving for the race itself. To try to head off that kind of bad dream, I practice visualizing myself at the starting line. I’ve successfully completed my training and arrived at the race healthy (that’s half the challenge right there!) I’ve got all my gear and my Garmin is fully charged and working. I start out at a steady pace — not too fast — and slowly work up to race pace. I execute my running and fueling strategies and cross the finish line with a smile on my face!

For more advice on what to do (and not do) during taper, see 10 Tips for Taper. And for more marathon training and racing tips, see:

Marathon Tip #1: Train for the Course and Race Conditions
Marathon Tip #2: Fasten Your Shoes with Lock Laces

What’s your best advice for gearing up for race day? Do you have a race coming up on your calendar?

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The day started with a 3:45 a.m. wakeup call after about four hours of sleep. I wasn’t nervous about the race but I think I had a little too much salt at dinner and it kept me awake longer than I would have liked. Or maybe my body just wanted to test the theory that it’s not the sleep the night before the race that matters, but two nights before the race. Spoiler alert: the theory is true in my case! I had a great experience at the inaugural Revel Canyon City Marathon & Half Marathon.

About three hours before the race start, I had my usual banana, oatmeal and coffee with a splash of milk, plus 20 ounces of Gatorade. The 35-minute drive to Citrus College in Azusa was uneventful. There was a bit of a line to get into the parking lot, and I had to park in the far lot and walk back to the buses. No big deal but I was desperate to find a bathroom at that point. The race information said the gym bathrooms would be open, but by the time I made it to the buses at 5:30 and asked where the gym was, the gym was too far to get to in time to get on the last half marathon bus at 5:45. Fortunately, some of the buses were tour buses with a bathroom, so I finagled my way out of the school bus line and onto the tour bus. In a second stroke of good luck, the woman in front of me in line gave me a tissue from her pack when she discovered the bathroom didn’t have any toilet paper.

On the bus drive up the canyon, I sat next to a lovely woman who had just run the NYC Marathon two weeks before. We chatted on the half hour drive up Highway 39. I enjoyed getting to preview the course that way, seeing where there were uphills and downhills along the course and enjoying the scenery. When we arrived at the start about 10 miles up into the canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains (recently designated a national monument by President Obama), I put on the warm gloves we’d been given at the expo and made a beeline through the brisk mountain air for the porta potties. There were enough for the number of runners (888 finishers in the half marathon). By that time it was about 6:30 and we had half an hour until the start.

Perfect temperature in the low 50s at the half marathon start.

Perfect temperature in the low 50s at the half marathon start.

Before I knew it, it was time to trade my sweats for the mylar blanket we’d also been given at the expo, and load my gear bag into the truck. After another fifteen minutes, we got treated to a beautiful, live version of the national anthem, and it was time to line up on the course, self-seeding ourselves by the pacers of our choice. I got up close to the front, behind the 1:40 pacer, as I planned to go for a 1:45.

That turned out to be the right spot for me and I quickly settled into a 7:45-8:00 minute pace without any runners to dodge in front of me. There are some rolling hills in the first few miles, nothing too challenging and still plenty of downhill to get your pace up. In fact I’d planned to go out a little slower at the start, an 8:15, but my first mile ended up at 7:45. I just felt great and I went the pace my legs wanted to go on the downhills as I repeated my downhill mantra “light, quick, light, quick” in time with each step (as opposed to my mantra on the flatter sections, which turned out to be “put the hammer down, stay strong.” I have no idea where that came from but it worked!)

I enjoyed the spectacular views down the canyon along the partially closed course. We stayed in the left lane while the right was open to traffic guided by police escorts. Only once, though, did I see one set of cars pass by on the first 10 miles of the course. No spectators were allowed there either, which didn’t bother me at all. It was just peaceful and beautiful, with a sprinkling of runners along the course and helpful aid station volunteers about every two miles.

When I hit the halfway point, I did a quick self-check. At that point I was ahead of my target pace and I was still feeling great. I decided to maintain my current pace and reassess at mile 10. Incredibly, I still felt really good at mile 10 too. It wasn’t easy, but it was easier than the tempo runs I’d been performing in full marathon training (ah the miracle of taper and the wonder of what a little rest can do for the legs). I passed the first timing mat on the course at mile 10 in 1:18:19.2 for an average pace of 7:50. From that point on I looked at the race as a 5K to the finish, “only” 3.1 more miles to go. I tried my hardest to keep the pace around 7:45 without burning out before the finish. Much to my surprise, I got a surge of energy when I could hear the finish line announcer, and then could see the finish line arch. I ended up averaging a 7:38 pace for the last 3.1 miles, for a 5K split of 23:38.8, which happens to be a PR in the 5K! I guess I’d better get out there for a stand-alone 5K soon to see what I could do at that distance!

My final chip time was 1:41:58 for an average pace of 7:47 (which happens to be my 10K PR pace for my very hilly local La Habra 10K). I stopped by the timing tent and got a printout of my official results, only to find out that I had placed 3rd in my 40-44 age group out of 104 women! 27th female of 576 and 76th of all 888 finishers.

Huge finisher's medal on the left, "bronze" medal for 3rd place F40-44 on the right. My chip time ended up being one second faster than shown here.

Huge finisher’s medal on the left, “bronze” medal for 3rd place F40-44 on the right. My chip time ended up being one second faster than shown here.

I celebrated with a heavenly massage at the Massage Envy tent, then made my way to pick up my gear bag. The truck had been delayed on the course so instead I started the long walk back to my car in the parking lot. That took 15-20 minutes and while it made an effective recovery walk, I would have liked to be back in my dry clothes for that (and really, I would have liked a shuttle bus). I drove back to the gear pick-up just in time to see my bag being sorted by bib number.

On my way back out of the parking lot, I spotted Andrea, a friend I hadn’t realized would be at the race as a spectator to cheer on Pavement Runner (and she hadn’t known until the last minute that I was running the race also — and when she heard she made a sign for me too!!) During the race I had heard people call out my name at mile 12 (a HUGE boost at that point because I was putting everything into staying at my pace by then) but I just marveled at the fact that these ladies could read my name on my bib. It never occurred to me that it was someone I knew!! I was so in the zone I just gave a double thumbs-up and kept my eyes on the road. So I was especially glad we connected after the race. It was particularly nice of her to be out at the race this morning when she is headed off to run Disney Avengers early tomorrow morning then hop on a plane to go run the Strip at Night in Vegas that evening!

I never imagined the day would turn out so well and that I would be celebrating a full 6-minute PR on my Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon time. Long-time readers can guess that the first thing I did when I got home was to plug 1:41:58 into the McMillan pace calculator to see that it predicts I could train to run the full marathon in 3:34:36. That would be a 10-minute PR for me for my fifth marathon, so I’m skeptical, but gosh darn it how much would I love to run that at the Phoenix Marathon in February?!

Overall I am very impressed by the Revel Canyon City Half Marathon and I would definitely recommend it to friends. (Note that the full marathon has a net loss of 5,134 feet compared to 933 for the half — I’m curious to see what people think of the full marathon and that serious downhill run).

What’s your next goal race and what is your goal for that race?

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Please excuse me when I get all dramatic up in here. I’m just being honest about how I felt when I didn’t make the cutoff for Boston. I didn’t exactly handle it with the grace I would like to have had. I felt very bitter. I kinda wanted to shout, “Fine then! I didn’t want to run your dumb old super-expensive race anyway! I already lived in Boston for two years. I don’t need to see it again! You just saved me the cost of airline tickets and a hotel room and now I don’t have to pull my kids out of school to fly across the country!” I thought of boycotting The Boston Marathon, of not even trying to qualify again.

Of course, then I calmed down and admitted that if I was so upset by not getting to go to Boston, it simply meant that I cared a lot about getting to go. And I promptly signed up for full marathon #5, the Phoenix Marathon (hence my oh-so-clever post title about the phoenix rising up from the ashes).

Phoenix Marathon logo

So that’s where I’ll be on February 28, 2015. Believe it or not, the 20-week competitive marathon training plan I chose from Smart Marathon Training starts next Sunday with a 10-mile long run. Today I knocked out an 8-mile tempo run at 8:00 per mile and that felt great, so I feel ready to tackle the plan.

I had the tiniest bit of buyer’s remorse (racer’s remorse?) after hitting the “register” key for Phoenix because it has a downhill profile with nearly 1,000 feet in elevation loss, similar to the Mountains 2 Beach Marathon where I bonked so hard. Downhill running can pound your quads and also trick you (and by you I mean me) into going out too fast and then bonking later in the race. So, I’m trying to learn from my past mistakes and I’m incorporating downhill training into my weekly runs. Most people would call it “hill repeats” and consider the uphill part the part that’s building strength and thus speed, but I’m more interested in the downhill part where I work on keeping my foot turnover light and quick! Last Wednesday I ran a warm-up mile to a perfect, steep 0.4-mile hill. I ran up (and down) that four times and then ran a cooldown mile back to my car. (I would have run more repeats but that was the amount of time I had in the 45 minutes my daughter is in gymnastics class).

To help allay my downhill race worries I’ve also signed up for a downhill half marathon that fits perfectly in my training plan. In place of a 16-mile long run on a Sunday, I’ll race 13.1 miles on a Saturday down Highway 39, a beautiful route through the forests and canyons of Angeles National Forest to the foothills of Azusa. It’s the inaugural REVEL Canyon City Marathon & Half Marathon on November 15, 2014. (Tip: if you want to sign up for the race, make sure you go to RaceShed.com for a $5 off discount code, and also snag an extra $5 off for allowing REVEL to share your entry on Facebook). The half marathon has a net loss of 933 feet, close to the amount of the loss over the full marathon course in Phoenix.

So, here I go again! Does anyone have any thoughts or tips on downhill running?

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