The week before any big race is a time of stress. Not only is the race looming large, but you are tapering and running less, which leaves plenty of extra time for fretting, frantic packing and repacking of kit and making rash decisions which have the potential to jeopardise your race.
To avoid too much worry during race week I like to have a plan for how I approach my final race preparation. Here are 10 areas to focus on in the week before your ultra:
1. Bank sleep
If you are running a distance of 50 miles or above then it is very likely that you will be spending at least some time running through the night, potentially missing one or even two nights’ sleep. Even at shorter distances it is likely that early starts and anxiety will cause some disruption to your sleeping patterns close to the race.
Thankfully you can help mitigate the effects of sleep deprivation by banking sleep before the race. Don’t worry about this the night before as it is highly likely that nerves will stop you having a great night’s sleep the night before the race. Instead this is one to work on throughout race week. Try to go to bed half an hour early each night and you will be amazed by how much more refreshed you feel come race day.
2. Eat Well
There is a lot of talk about carb loading in the run up to a big event, but for me the most important areas to focus on are getting plenty of nutritious food and avoiding trying anything new. If you normally eat chicken and rice before a long run, eat chicken and rice. Stick to your normal portion sizes or you are likely to feel sluggish and bloated come race day.
If you struggle with digestive issues during an ultra then it may be worth reducing the amount of fibre you eat for the last few days before a race. Otherwise just focus on eating a good balanced diet with sensible portions of carbohydrate, protein and fat.
3. Drink plenty
You need to make sure you start your race well hydrated and this process starts from a few days before. Make sure that you are drinking plenty of fluids and check the colour of your pee to assess your hydration level (it should be a light straw colour).
4. Rest your body and your mind
Never mind the running, an ultra marathon simply requires you to be on your feet and mobile for considerably longer periods than the vast majority of us are used to. Make sure that in the run up to your race you stay off your feet as much as possible; of course, life doesn’t always allow this, but try to avoid long days shopping, sightseeing or on your feet at work in the run up to the race.
Just as importantly you need to try to rest your mind. An ultra requires a long period of focus, concentration and emotional stress and you need to allow yourself to prepare for this at the same time as resting your body. Try to avoid unnecessary stress during race week, whether worrying about the race or in trying to deal with issues in your life outside running.
5. Prepare your kit
An easy way to keep yourself occupied during the week before your race is in preparing your kit. You often need more kit with you during an ultra than in a shorter race, and if you are allowed a crew as well then there can seem like an endless mountain of food and equipment to prepare.
Make sure you get everything ready in plenty of time so that you can identify anything extra that you may need and are not suddenly left trying to find somewhere to buy headtorch batteries at 11pm the night before the race. However, my top tip is to lay everything out ready, but leave it unpacked until the day before. If you pack it all neatly away, then I can guarantee that you will go through several last minute panics about whether you have packed particular items, requiring frantic packing and unpacking each time!
6. Ignore taperitis
It is impossible to avoid a touch of taperitis before a goal race. You have invested so much into your training that every slight niggle or sniffle instantly seems like a race ending injury or illness. Keep calm and remember it is all in the mind and will have completely disappeared come race day!
7. Try to avoid illness
That being said, it is worth putting a bit of extra effort into avoiding picking up a last minute bug. Now of course life goes on and we can’t shut ourselves away for two weeks before a race, but we can be extra cautious about diligent hand washing, using hand sanitizer and consuming plenty of vitamins to boost our immune system.
8. Do a bit of running
Trust your training and ignore any mad panic! Remember that fitness gains take time to take effect, so any runs you do now will not make your race, but they could break it. Now is not the time to “test your legs” in an attempt to gain confidence for race day. Instead allow yourself a few shakeout runs to keep the legs ticking over, but be careful to save your effort for the race.
9. Plan the logistics and study the course
You will feel far more relaxed if you know where you are staying, how you are getting to the start, where the loos are and where you need to put your drop bags. I love any excuse to write a list, but this is a great way of reassuring yourself that you have everything under control.
Make sure you are familiar with the course; even if it is going to be marked, understanding roughly where you are and what is coming next will help you feel more in control on the day. Study maps, photos from recces, blogs from other runners, Google Street View and the race route information to get to know the course in as much detail as possible.
10. Visualise, visualise, visualise
The positive mental image is a powerful thing. Use the week before the race to rehearse in your mind how things are going to go: imagine yourself at the start running easy and controlled; picture yourself powering up the hills; see yourself crossing the finish line and experiencing the joy of success.
On the flip side, take the time to think through what may go wrong and how you will deal with any issues. Under what circumstances would you allow yourself to DNF? Where can you top up with water? How much food is provided at checkpoints? Do you have resources to deal with minor cuts, blisters or chafing?
Using the week before the race to properly rest and prepare your mind, body and equipment will give you the opportunity to perform to your full potential in the race itself.