You’ve done your training and you are in taper mode. Race week is fast approaching. While tapering for your ultra is good for the body, it can wreck havoc on your confidence level so here are some tips for handling the last week before your first ultra.
Days -6, -5, -4
It’s completely normal to feel extremely anxious before your first ultra marathon. Some of this comes from tapering. When the body is at rest, the mind starts obsessing but getting a jump on your planning will put your mind at ease.
- Create a master checklist so you don’t reinvent the wheel before each race. It’s helpful to keep a little note pad and pen on the bedside table at night so you can jot down things that wake you up during the night; things like “need AA batteries”! This will help you fall back asleep more easily.
- Assemble your running gear (clothes, shoes, hydration pack, race foods), especially if you will be traveling for the race. Don’t wait until packing day to do this. Organizing early will greatly relieve your anxiety.
- Speaking of anxiety, “OMG, I’m not ready!” thoughts should be replaced with positive affirmations. Write them on your note pad and read them aloud to yourself. Statements like “Training is done; I’m ready to run!” will soon become positive thoughts that will override your fears. This is a very important part of mental preparation for ultra runners, to train your brain for success.
- Create visual images of yourself running the race… and finishing. Take 15-minutes each day to sit quietly and imagine putting into practice everything you’ve learned; power walking the up hills, running the down hills. See yourself as efficient, focused, competent and strong. Be sure to end each visualization by crossing the finish line!
- Develop a mantra for the race and practice it out loud. Two of my favorites are “this is what I trained for” and “I paid good money to feel this bad”!
- Eat well in the days before the race. Do not strictly carbo-load; have some form of protein with each meal. Protein repairs muscle breakdown that will inevitably occur with longer distance races. Increased dietary protein in the days before and after an ultra will ensure more successful racing and recovery.
- Hydrate adequately and avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages. Trim your toenails and have a massage!
Days -3, -2 (all of the above, plus)
- Review the racecourse: Get a feeling for the distance between aid stations, especially the first and the last ones. Decide where you will use drop bags, if any. It’s helpful to commit to memory the topography of the last 5-6 miles of the racecourse. This will really help you stay focused when the end is so close, yet so far!
- Prepare your drop bags with essentials and label them with your bib number, last name, and aid station. Large USPS Tyvek mailing envelopes make great drop bags. Getting your bags ready early will help you stay calm in the days leading up to the race.
- Prepare crew bags; don’t put your crew through the stress of searching through bags and crates for your special flashlight or LS shirt. Put essential items in crew bags (Tyvek mailers again) and label them for each station so your crew can just grab the appropriate bag and bring it to you.
- Get your best sleep three and two nights before the race, especially if you are running a 100-miler.
- Find a special place to put out your clothes like your mom did for you the night before your first day of kindergarten! I dedicate a top dresser drawer in the hotel room for my things to be in one place in the morning. Pin your race number to the bottom of your shorts, or your hat. Do not pin it on your shirt; you might need to change shirts or possibly put on a jacket. Put out your socks, shoes, insoles, gaiters, bandana, sunscreen, sunglasses, flashlight, etc.
- Prepare your bottles and hydration pack. Assure that you are packed with essentials… candy, salt, a baggie for food, etc. If rain is likely or you are running at altitude, you might pack a large plastic trash bag.
- Prepare your breakfast for the morning.
- Tend to your feet; if needed, tape areas prone to blistering.
- Have an early dinner, a warm bath before bed, and remember to set two alarms!
- Have breakfast early. Eat and drink what you normally do. Drink warm liquids to help “get moving”; coffee is OK, if it’s your usual. After breakfast, get dressed. Before leaving, go to the bathroom.
- Plan to arrive about 30 minutes before the start or earlier if parking is an issue. Check in with race officials. Stay relaxed and repeat your positive mantras. You are a newbie at this distance and you have only one goal… to finish! Break the race up into smaller sections. Do not think about the entire race distance; concentrate only on getting to the first aid station.
When people ask me how to run 100-miles, I usually answer “one step at a time”. Begin the race with a deep breath and a smile on your face; this is the beginning of a new journey!