Just Over A Week ‘Til Race Day


The marathon is close and I’m feeling it. What does that phrase mean? I’m worn out! A summer of hard training, long runs, fast runs, a brutal trail race and the big 20 mile run Saturday-before-last means the organism that is me is feeling shagged out. My sleep patterns have been off a little lately, I’ve been a bit grumpy, and I’ve had two runs that were tougher and slower than they should’ve been. In other words I’m not in optimal condition.

As they sometimes ask on ESPN, “Is it time to panic?”

I went to a former client and good friend of mine to get his take on my condition. (This guy is a multiple-Ironman competitor and veteran of numerous Olympic distance triathlons, marathons and various very demanding and ugly adventure races.) I told him about all this. His words were, “Congratulations, you’re two weeks out from a marathon. You’ve been training hard. Feeling beat up and tired is completely normal.”

Wonderful! I’m normal! Psychologically, it’s very comforting to have someone who’s gone through this process tell me that all is probably very well. Seems like it’s a good time to discuss exactly what’s going on here and why I might be feeling a bit run over and rundown.

Whether we’re looking at strength training or endurance training, a process known as the General Adaptive (or Adaptation) Syndrome is at work. Rather than try to explain this myself, (I am tired after all) I’ll borrow from Cedric Unholz, a Vancouver-based collegiate strength coach and manual therapist. The following comes from his document, Resistance Training Theory and Adaptation Fundamentals. (Never mind that this is directed at resistance training.  As I said earlier, endurance training processes are essentially the same.)

The Stress-Response Model

The fundamental model underpinning all training and adaptation processes is derived from the ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’ initially outlined by Hans Selye in 1936, and later refined by the same author in 1956. In most training literature this concept is commonly referred to as the ‘supercompensation cycle’.

These models very clearly highlight that training is ultimately about applying appropriate stress to take advantage of the body’s subsequent adaptive responses. Any stimulus/stressor or recovery method, regardless whether acute or chronic in nature, will cause a response that will correspond to the principles of this concept and shape the response curvature. Similarly, a lack or over-application of stimulus will also be accompanied by a corresponding response profile.

In essence, this stress-response model (Figure 2) consists of four phases:

1. ‘Alarm reaction’ following a disruption in homeostasis (e.g. a training stimulus).

2. ‘Resistance’ where the body responds to the stimulus by recovering, repairing itself, and instigating a return towards the initial baseline.

3. ‘Supercompensation’ where the body adapts to the initial stimulus by rebounding above the previous baseline, in order to better cope with the initial disruptive stimulus should it present itself again.

4. ‘Exhaustion’, which could also be termed ‘Detraining’, sees a drop to the initial level of homeostasis (or below) if there is an inappropriate application of following stimulus; whether too much, too soon, or not enough.

Figure 2. The Stress-Response Model based on Hans Selye’s ‘General Adaptation Syndrome’

So in my case, my recent poor runs suggest that I’ve had a little too much stimulation and I was somewhat deep in the alarm phase of this model–somewhere in the A/B range of the curve. The strategy now is to get well into the C part of the curve for the race.

Recovery strategy

The key word here is REST. I need to back off of the running, lifting, cycling, etc. in order to allow for supercompensation. That means lying around a good bit, sleeping in a bit, looking for any opportunity to sit. I’ve also been overeating a bit. I haven’t been too terribly gluttonous but I’ve definitely been taking in more good quality calories.  I’ve also been drinking a bit of delicious tart cherry juice from I got at the local farmer’s market.

Beyond rest and eating, I’ll modify my running plan for the final week before the race. I will likely do a long run on Saturday or Sunday of 6-8 miles and I’ll run it slow and easy. Next week I’ll probably do some speed work early in the week but I’ll cut down the reps. Then the mid-week three mile run at marathon pace sounds about right.

I’ve already cut back my weight workouts and I might do one upper-body focused workout next week but even just working the upper body can tax the whole system, so less is more in this regard.

Finally, if any of this is of interest to you, then definitely have a look at this Running Times article titled How Long Does It Take To Benefit From A Hard Workout? The information here should prove very valuable to anyone trying to strategize their race training.


Today I did a 3 mile tempo run and I felt good. I hit my pace without too much discomfort. All seems well.  I believe I’m right where I need to be.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *