Hardest marathon prep can be the days when you have to rest

— This is the second of three articles about how to deal with prerace jitters while tapering for the Little Rock Marathon.

Rest is a relative term. One racer's rest is another's hard work.

As thousands of Arkansans enter their second week of tapering before the Little Rock Marathon, it's a good bet that some who aren't used to resting have begun to wonder whether they ought to be running faster during their increasingly short workouts.

The taper is supposed to be a time in which athletes' bodies recover from months of demanding exercise and especially from the last long workout they endured, the dreaded 20-miler. During this rest break, muscles, bones and minds gird themselves to endure 26.2 miles of punishment March 2.

Few training authorities advise marathoners to take advantage of the shorter distances they run during the taper by honing their speed. Most urge caution.

This week, "rest truly replaces training as the most important element of your race preparations," as the Runner's World Guide to Road Racing (Rodale,2008) explains in its chapter about tapering for a marathon.

Little Rock Marathon training coach Hobbit Singleton agrees.

"For those who feel the need to exhaust themselves up until the marathon, my advice would be limiting the speedwork to one day during the second taper week and keeping the distance short," she says. "Maybe a onemile warm-up, one to two miles at race pace, and then a one-mile cool-down.

"The point of the taper is to get your body rested and revitalized before the race - not to keep pounding it into the ground. Better to go into a race a little under-trained than overtrained."

First-timers often have a hard time appreciating the fact that as their 20-mile training run retreats into memory, their leg muscles can start to feel terrific again well before the rest of the body has recovered. Bones, tendons and ligaments take longer and may well need all three of the tapering weeks the Little Rock coaches build into their basic training schedules.

"If you're wiped out from too much training, lack of sleep, under-hydration and skimping on your fuel in the weeks before the race, you've decreased your chances of getting to the finishline, much less having a wonderful experience during your race," Singleton says.

"In keeping with that theme, to those athletes who think they'll do a few extra workouts to make up any miles they missed in training: Don't try to add the mileage you missed back in December. You're trained, you're ready. Let it go."

And weight-lifters ought to lay off their strength workouts this week, too. As editor Katie McDonald Neitz advises in the Runner's World Guide: "And if you've been lifting weights as part of your training program, stop.

"Weight training at this stage of the game can't help your race, but it can sap your strength or cause an injury."

The Little Rock coaches will meet trainees for one last question-and-answer session at 6 p.m. Thursday in the University Park Adult Leisure Center, 6401 W. 12th St. in Little Rock.

"Even if they've never come to a meeting, we want them to come to this one," Singleton says. "This is our 'hand-holding' meeting before the marathon and it really seems to help a lot of them to just come and talk about their fears." Next week: One week to go.

ActiveStyle, Pages 31 on 02/18/2008