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Tapering Before My First 100 Mile Ultra Marathon

Written By George Callahan

Jul 19, 2018

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I’m tapering for my first 100-mile ultra marathon. Not only in the traditional sense…

Tapering for an endurance race is expected. Moreover, tapering for an ultra marathon is encouraged. A taper is a reduction in training volume or intensity, or both, before a race. It is widely practiced in endurance sports to allow the body to rest and heal completely before a period of high stress.

Endurance sports, like ultra marathons, require great energy output over an extended period of time; physical training is essential to success. Tapering has become an athlete’s way of putting his or her best foot forward physically.

Have you ever heard someone say It’s all in your head or Mindset is key or Mental preparation is of equal importance?

Do you agree?

If ultrarunning is mostly a mental game, as people say, shouldn’t mental tapering be prioritized even more than a physical taper?

Can one mentally taper for an ultramarathon?

You’ve set the stage for your first ultra marathon; the lights are on, the floor is swept, and there is no more preparation to be done. You’re ready. You’ve trained with purpose (NOT like this) and have aligned your actions with the goals you’ve set. You’ve peaked your mileage and have put in multiple back-to-back long runs. Equally important, you’ve stretched, strengthened, and rested; your body is ready to run for 50 miles, 100 miles, or more.

For a physical taper, I reduce mileage two weeks before the race by about 20% and increase stretching and mobility work. The week before the race, I will run a handful of times to get the blood flowing and keep the stretching volume high.

I believe physcial tapers really are that simple, if you even practice them at all. A period of decreased volume and intensity before something as monumental as an ultra marathon will help prevent injury, or burnout on the course. I’ve seen it work for myself in my first 100 mile race that I was totally unprepared for. Basically, in that race, I had an unplanned 6 week taper.

So, with your body ready to traverse the difference and conquer the mountain, where is your mindset?

Are you excited? Are you especially nervous?

As a matter of fact, you’re probably excited and nervous in addition to many other emotions, I’m sure.

Take a deep breath. Again.

Is the mental side of training, including a taper, as important as the physcial?

I think so; here’s four ways I mentally taper before challenges of great mental endurance, like an ultra marathon.

1.) Sleep more, think less

Sleep is highly regarded among endurance athletes like trail and ultra runners because of its healing properties. There’s no need to go into this topic; I won’t bore you with common knowledge. I’m going to pass early morning training sessions to the afternoon or evening and sleep in, or go to bed earlier than I normally do for morning training. After all, an ultra marathon is all in your head and I know how great my mind feels after 9 or 10 hours of sleep.

2.) Stretch more, run less

While I can’t claim to have the stretching obsession of David Goggins, I’m getting there. I’ve never felt physically or mentally more prepared for anything than after a few days of intentional stretching. It works. I normally shoot for an hour a day; the final couple weeks before a race I push that number closer to two hours. Relax, breathe, take your time and listen to your body in order to reap the mental benefits of this exercise.

3.) Spend more time outdoors

I may regret this one when I am running along a trail for 24+ hours, but I love the outdoors. The outdoors, in all its beauty and adventure, drove me to trail and ultra running initially, so I am getting back to my roots and remembering why I love trails and mountains and rivers and the Great Outdoors. With this in mind, relax and breathe; take in the world. Go out for a few walks, read your favorite book in the local park, or enjoy a bike ride.

4.) Decluttering

I haven’t fully committed to minimalism, but as I prepare gear and pack for an ultra marathon, I always get rid of things that I no longer have a need for. I’ve packed up three garbage bags of clothes and gotten rid of a desk and dresser all before one race; find value in quality over quantity and enjoy simplicity. In light of your upcoming race, occupy your time with organization and cleaning. A decluttered living space leads to a more organized mind; right now, you need your mind focused on all the right things, like crossing that finish line.

Now, physical tapering is effective with proper training to give the body rest for a monumental task. Take note of the important “with proper training.” Similarly, a mental taper works with proper training; have you prepared mentally for the task ahead? A mental taper should not be a frantic attempt to shed stress in nervous anticipation of your first 100-mile ultra marathon. It acts the same way a physical taper does; allow the mind to rest and relax in preparation for an impending challenge, knowing full well the confidence supporting the taper has been built in consistent mental training. Without consistent training, a physical taper or a mental one diminishes in value; be intentional in training and in tapering.

What does proper mental training look like?

Ultimately, decision and action and goal setting are paramount to success. Check out How to Run 100 Miles (even if your race is a shorter difference!) and follow Wicked Trail on Instagram for a lot more on these topics.

Do you taper physically? Have you ever tapered mentally? Was it intentional or simply an unplanned ‘destress period?’ How has it impacted the races you’ve completed?

Essential Taper Tools!

These are the time-killers, body-healers, and preparation tools and gear I ready for race day with. Most of them will find use after your run, as well. Enjoy!

Yeah, ultras turned me into a sandal guy. Let your toes breathe as you wind down toward race day. They deserve it! Comfortable, simple, zero-drop, and rugged enough to rock at race-briefing or packet pick-up. You won’t regret having a comfortable pair of durable, adventurous, open-air shoes after this race, either.

Roll it out! This is the best foot-massage ball I’ve used. It’s small enough to show some love to all the minute details of the foot and large enough to actually be useful. The knobs add a bit of sensation so you know where exactly you’re working it. This ball adds a feel of plasticity and bounce to your step!

My quads, those big thigh muscles that save your knees when running downhill, were never the same after using this roller. And I mean that in a good way. I’m going to reuse the words plasticity and bounce because they describe any muscle you work; during races, give those tight muscles (especially calves and quads!) some TLC to get you back on the Wicked Trail.

Everyone’s read Born to Run and Finding Ultra (I hope). As your taking some down-town to prepare for your race, pick up Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferris. In short, it’s a collection of short life advice by some of the most successful people (including athletes) in the world. This book is a must-read.

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