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Tapering Before My First 100 Mile Ultra Marathon

I’m tapering for my first 100-mile ultra marathon. It’s a practice to show up for a big race rested, refreshed, and confident. Some runners will ask a coach or experienced ultra runner for advice. For my first 100 miler, I’m just listening to my body (and I think you should too).

Tapering for an endurance race is expected. Moreover, tapering for an ultra marathon is encouraged. A taper is a reduction in training volume and intensity 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.

It’s a tool to put your best foot forward (literally, in this case) on race day.

It’s all in your head.

Ultra running is a physical crucible and demands a lot of respect from a would-be finisher, whether it’s your first race or you’re a 100 mile veteran.

Your taper is important for physical preparedness, and reduction in running volume should begin 2-3 weeks before the big race. The big volume and hard runs are behind you. Relax, run easy, and bring your body to a “moving but rested” state. That’s my focus.

I don’t think it needs to be much more complicated than that, and many of the articles I’ve read (like this one from No Meat Athlete) give me confidence in listening to my body, and acting accordingly. I want my body to be ready for a big day, but I also want to feel completely refreshed at the start line.

Plus, I do think ultra running really is all in your head.

I mean, haven’t you ever heard someone say Mindset is key? Have you ever read the age-old ultra marathon advice that mental preparation is of equal importance to the physical, functional, mechanical preparation?

Do you agree?

If ultra running is mostly a mental game, shouldn’t mental tapering be primary in an athlete’s final weeks of preparation?

Can one mentally taper for an ultramarathon?

I think so.

Four Steps to a Successful Taper

You’ve set the stage for your first ultra marathon; the lights are on, the floor is swept, and there is no more hard work to be done. You’re ready. You’ve trained with purpose (not like this) and have set yourself up for success with good habits and intentional training. With strong peak mileage and a few weekends of back-to-back long runs, your legs are strong enough for the challenge ahead.

For my own tapering, I reduce mileage two weeks before the race by about 20-50% (depending on how far the race is, how important it is, and how I feel). The week before the race, I run a handful of times to get the blood flowing and stay loose. I run easy with a couple short strides once or twice.

I believe tapers really are that simple: a period of decreased volume and intensity before something as monumental as an ultra marathon will help prevent injury on the course, and give you fresh legs at the start line.

So, with your body ready to and conquer the big mountain looming ahead, where is your mindset?

Are you excited? Are you especially nervous?

You’re probably excited and nervous. Ultra running brings out a lot of nerves and emotions. Those things are part of the beauty of the sport.

Take a deep breath. Again.

Here’re four keys to tapering before your next ultra marathon.

1.) Sleep more, think less

Sleep is highly regarded among endurance athletes because of its healing properties (duh). There’s no need to dive too deep here. Everyone knows how important sleep is! Don’t be afraid to pass the early morning training sessions to the afternoon or evening and sleep in. If that’s not your style, go to bed earlier than you normally plan. You know how great you feel after 8-10 hours of sleep? Feel more of that in the 2-3 weeks before your race.

2.) Move lots, run less

I’ve never felt physically or mentally more prepared for endurance events than after a few days of intentional movement. Yoga, biking, hiking, picking up trash, long walks. Whatever. Just move. It works. Shoot for an hour a day of low impact, low heart rate movement. Of course, you’ll still be running a good bit, but substitute some easy movement where you might want to squeeze in more miles. Relax, breathe, take your time and listen to your body in order to reap the mental benefits of simply moving.

3.) Spend more time outdoors

You may regret this one when you’re running along a trail for 24+ hours, but the Great Outdoors is such an integral part of ultra running, and we shouldn’t forget it. With this in mind, relax and breathe outdoors for a few hours everyday of low- or no-impact movement. Just take in the natural world. Read your favorite book in the local park, go smell some flowers, or take up a new hobby, like birding.

If you’re looking for adventure/outdoor inspiration, my poetry project Pine Tree Poet may ignite that sense of natural wonder that I believe is so integral to ultra running.

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 donated three garbage bags of clothes and rid my bedroom of a desk and dresser before my first 100 miler. It’s important to find value in simplicity (I think ultra marathons are excellent practices of 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.

Plus, as you pack you drop bags, organize your gear, and develop a race strategy, you’ll enjoy reaching into the deep recesses of your closet and tossing gear & clothes you no longer have need for.

Tapering for an ultra marathon should not be a frantic attempt to shed stress in nervous anticipation of your first 100 mile ultra marathon. It allows 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 physical & mental conditioning. Without consistent and proper training, tapering diminishes in value.

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.

You’ve never tried OOFOS? Careful, you might get hooked. They cradle your feet, let your toes breathe, and have a HOKA-esque rocker feel. They certainly won’t help your feet get stronger (way too cushy), but you’ll be glad to own a pair of these recovery sandals after your race. I wear mine after long hikes, tough runs, and races. You’ll also find me sporting my OOFOS leading up to race day. OOFOS sandals float, they’re a closed-cell foam so you can machine-wash them, and they’re zero drop for all you Altra fans out there. Pro tip: OOFOS only makes full sizes. I wear a size 10.5 running shoe and a size 10 OOFOS sandal.

This is my favorite little foot-massage ball. It’s small enough to show some love to all the minute details of the foot and large enough to actually be useful. It gets the blood flowing for pre-run, massages tired feet after a long run, and is easy to transport for race day.

Want to take it up a level? TheraGun makes my favorite massage gun. It’s quiet, feels amazing, and is portable for race day. It’s an investment, but with over 4,000 5 star reviews, your tired muscles will be grateful.

Need to get really deep, or don’t want to haul electronics around? Get the Tiger Tail massage stick. Speaking from experience, it’s the most durable, reliable, and effective massage stick I’ve used. It simple and effective, and I love using it on exhausted muscles during the hard, late hours of ultras.

Everyone’s read Born to Run and Finding Ultra (I hope). As your taking some down-time 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. You’ll find some practical advice, philosophical wisdom, and quirky habits in this interesting non-fiction book.

If you’re interested in fiction and haven’t read The Alchemist, it’s an easy book that’s worth the read. It’s a magical, adventurous story that explores purpose. It seems like everyone has read this classic by now, but if you haven’t, The Alchemist is high on my list of books for ultra runners.

One of my favorite books for ultra runners is called Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. It gives the reader an intimate look into the massive discomfort and fatigue that befell Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to Antarctica in the early 1900s. His entire crew survived for over 2 years stranded in Antarctica, and their trials and hardships are breathtaking to modern people. Your upcoming adventures won’t seem so brutal after reading about the adversity Shackleton’s crew faced.

Comfort Is A Lie Gear

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2 thoughts on “Tapering Before My First 100 Mile Ultra Marathon

  1. Have enjoying the blog it is helpful and encouraging. August will be first 100k for me. Goal is 100 mile in October. Good Luck on your 100 miler and running for a good cause.

    1. Thanks, Tim! Looking forward to hearing about the 100k and I’ll be sure to give you some insight to the first 100 miler.

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