After months of hitting the trails getting ready for an ultramarathon, it can be frustrating to cut back on your training. It’s only two weeks until the Vibram Hong Kong 100. Many runners will begin to second-guess themselves and overcook, or undercook, the time immediately before their race.
But there is a balance to be struck, so make sure you are tapering correctly to ensure you are in tip-top shape come race day.
What is tapering?
Tapering is the period of time immediately before your race when you cut back on your training so you are not tired when the race starts. Runners change their training plan, eat more and sleep more to allow their bodies to recover. But that does not mean they stop training altogether and eat whatever they want.
When should I start tapering?
Tapering should start two weeks before race day, although some athletes’ advice is as long as three weeks. On days one to three of your taper you should drastically reduce your volume, which means cutting down the distance you are running. For an ultramarathon, a lot of training is simply spending time on your feet at low intensity, but now you are just 14 days away, this phase of training is over. Cut your running in half.
That’s not to say you should reduce intensity. Keep striding on your training runs so that your muscles are still getting a workout. After day three, you should continue to reduce your volume, but more gradually, right up to race day. The day before your race don’t run at all, or at best a very low intensity short run if you are too anxious to settle.
Keep to your schedule
Although your sessions have been changed, your schedule should stay the same. You’ve spent months following a routine and getting into habits so it can mess with you mentally if you are suddenly on a different schedule. If you normally do a long run on a particular day, still do a run on that day, just make sure the ‘long’ is relative to your tapering. If you do a speed session on another day, still do a speed session that day, just cut the amount of repetitions or intervals.
It is normal for you to start panicking and worrying you are undoing all of your hard work by tapering. Sticking to a familiar schedule helps alleviate that worry. Still, you may be tempted to extend your run because you’re feeling good. Fight that temptation and save that good mood for race day.
If you can replicate the race terrain during your taper, that is even better. Find similar trails with similar gradients to hone your mind and body for the impending race.
With less volume, comes more spare time. Try to get more sleep. Set your alarm 30 minutes later, or go to bed 30 minutes earlier. You will feel so much better on race day if you have a block of days of consecutive quality nights’ sleep.
Stay mentally occupied
The worse thing about the extra time off running is the extra time to think about the race. Use the extra time to prepare for the race – buy your snacks, pack your bag, check your gear – so you are not rushing around the day before the race and wasting mental energy.
Mental energy is finite, just like physical energy. With extra time, try to wrap up any loose ends at work as soon as possible so you aren’t fighting a deadline in the days leading up to the event.
If you are on top of your work, and packed, fill your time with other activities. Go to the cinema with friends, take your kids to the park, read a book, go to a museum or whatever it is you do in your spare non-running time. Basically, relax, switch off mentally and think about anything but the race.
Don’t change your diet
This isn’t the time to completely change what you eat. Eat what you’ve always eaten, but a bit more. Try to include lots of greens and slowly increase carbs (unless you are on some non-carbohydrates diet like Keto). A massive carbo-load the night before is probably too late, but if it’s what you’ve always done, stick with it.