dr. adam wolfberg is an obstetrician, a runner, and a writer.

Five tips to optimize your fall marathon - a conversation with Dr. Ian Nurse

That hint of red in the leaves of New England signals that fall marathon season is here. Chicago, New York, Berlin, and closer to home: Baystate, Cape Cod, Newport, Hartford. Each race brings an athlete to the starting line for a performance that builds on months (and sometimes years) of methodical training.

I sat down with runner and sports chiropractor Ian Nurse, to ask him about his approach to the weeks leading up to 26.2. Here’s what he had to say:

Your training inevitably combined running stress with recovery, building incrementally to gain speed and fitness without inviting injury. The remainder of your preparation for race day should rest on the same principles, and because too many runners inject last-minute tactics into their buildup, let’s focus on habits that are just as important as the miles that are now behind you.

1. Don’t try anything new.

Now is NOT the time to start doing hill repeats if you haven’t been doing them for months. You aren’t looking for new stress - you are looking to maintain the rhythm you have established. Ian thinks there is a habit to the muscles - they get into a certain rhythm - and you just keep that rhythm going. 

2. Hydration is a six-week process, not something you think about the day before the race.

Train your body to process water all the time. If you are training your body to store water and utilize it efficiently during a race, you’ll be in good shape on race day. Ian drinks a bit over 100 ounces daily, combining water and electrolytes (he goes to SOS or Nuun). Try to avoid the electrolyte replacement drinks containing a ton of sugar - except for during a workout or race or immediately afterward, when you need the calories as well as the electrolytes. Since you will be in the habit of staying hydrated, the day before the race is no different from any other day.

3. Get a massage - at least 7-10 days before the race.

There’s only so much you can do with a foam roller, so Ian recommends massage to break up scar tissue within the muscle that has developed from repetitive motion, increase blood flow to the muscle, and generally make it more pliable and elastic. If you are used to getting regular massages, you can probably go 3-4 days before a race. Otherwise, 7-10 days before because you will be sore. Ian recommends finding a therapist who focuses on deep-tissue sports massage - this is not your relaxing spa-style massage - It should be comfortably painful. My plug, not Ian’s: Wellness In Motion has a team of expert massage therapists.

4. Training should be just as intense - but should cover fewer miles - in the weeks before the race.

A lot of runners complete that last long run and then make the mistake of going into taper mode like it’s a vacation from running. The key to a successful taper, so you don’t feel flat on race day, and you don’t feel over-exerted or tired, is to keep the same rhythm and keep the same intensity of your runs - just reduce the volume. Ian generally runs twice each day, so he continues running twice a day. If you are used to doing track workouts every Tuesday, for example, keep going to the track - just do fewer repeats.

5. Focus on nutrition for the week before a race - not just the day before.

“Carbo-loading is not about pigging out,” Ian says, but about giving your body the best sources of complex carbohydrates. He recommends quinoa, sweet potato, brown rice, whole grain breads, and whole-wheat pastas. But here again, make sure you know which complex carbohydrates will sit well on your stomach. The day before a race, his go-to is chicken pad thai made with brown-rice noodles, with brown rice on the side (he actually eats it for lunch AND dinner). And the morning of the race you’re just topping it off.

You have put in the miles, and you know your legs are ready. If you make your race prep every bit as methodical as those training weeks were, you’re going to have a great race. 

Deciding to operate: the danger of certainty