You've done the hard work. Now it's time to have fun.
With the starting line looming in a few short weeks, it’s time to transition away from training and into race-day mode. The hay is in the barn; you can’t do anything else to improve upon your training when you’re *thisclose* to the big dance. But, we can offer up a few race-day tips and strategies to help your 100K journey go smoothly.
We connected with a pair of our favorite ultrarunners and endurance coaches who were more than willing to offer sage words of wisdom to implement on race day. With these invaluable tidbits in your running vest, we promise that your 62-mile journey to the finish line will be filled with aid-station laughs and delightful trailside conversations.
The taper madness, that is. If you’ve been logging routine miles, there’s a good chance that the sudden downswing in training will cause your brain to short-circuit just a bit. This is called taper madness and it happens when your body needs an energy outlet thanks to the reduction in mileage. It makes no sense at all, but it’s scientifically proven and it certainly causes ultrarunners to do ridiculous things like eat double the calories or register for a step aerobics class days prior to the race.
With all of your race-day worries at the front of your mind, you don’t need to deal with taper nonsense too. That’s why running coach and ultramarathoner Laura Swenson suggests funneling that unbridled energy into low-impact activities like swimming, biking, or mellow hiking. These will keep your body moving and stave off unfounded feelings of laziness, but they won’t damage your race day. “Just keep the effort easy!” Swenson advises.
UESCA-certified ultrarunning coach Heather Hart takes a practical approach to taper time and suggests throwing your brain power into the detailed minutiae of race-day logistics. There’s a lot of planning to deal with such as determining pace goals, packing drop bags, and calculating nutritional needs, so why not take your mind off the madness while still managing necessary race details? If you run out of things to do, she suggests tackling your to-do list at home since every ultrarunner ever has likely fallen behind on mundane household chores.
And if all else fails and you’re still feeling stir crazy? Hart suggests inspirational movies of the running variety. Some of her favorites include “Dead Last: The Yeti Trail Runners Movie” and “Chasing Pounumu” so we’d recommend starting there.
By now, you likely have your favorite running shorts and trusty running shoes at the ready, but you’ll need more than sneakers and clothes to get you through 62 miles. Use these final days to prep your drop bags for the race. Each 100K is different so look at your race website to determine how many bags you can drop and where they’ll be. Once you have this information, you can pack them accordingly based on what you already know of your personal running needs.
Of course, drop bags and extra items are only useful if you have your pace goals and calculations accurately lined up. And, as Swenson says, “Math and running are a bad combo!” It’s often difficult to remember these details when you’re in the heat of the day, so Swenson suggests writing a chart on a piece of paper that details all the aid stations, their mileage, and which drop bags you left where. Then, she tapes it to her water bottle so she has it as a visual reminder during the race.
Once you have this written path planned out, it’s easier to pack your drop bags with the proper gear. Swenson recommends looking at variables such as the time of day and average temperatures to help you determine what you’ll need in which bag. For example, if your pace goals determine you’ll be picking up your first bag in the early afternoon, consider high-sun factors such as sunscreen or non-sweaty, dry socks. If it’s a bag you’ll swing by nearer to dusk, you’ll likely want to include warmer layers for cooler temperatures, as well as your headlamp and batteries for nighttime running.
According to Hart, one of the toughest aspects of her first few 100K races was her mindset. “I went into them with a kind of beast mode mentality, thinking I was this badass strong chick that could push through anything,” she admits. “It didn’t even cross my mind that there were going to be moments that were emotionally very, very tough.”
If you’re unprepared for these emotional low points, they can feel as shocking to the system as a slap to the face. And once you’re derailed, it can be quite difficult to get yourself back on the proverbial wagon. That’s why Hart recommends coming up with a plan for these bottom-of-the-barrel moments during your race. What are you going to do when you’ve been moving for 11 hours, it’s dark outside, and every fiber of your being wants to be home in bed with your favorite pillow?
“Even though we want it with all our heart and soul, your mind starts to play tricks with you in those low points,” she says. “So, have a plan.”
As an example, Hart’s low-point plan looks something like this:
Physically, your training has already prepared your body, but your brain is a different beast. Creating a plan before race day when you’re mentally and emotionally cognizant sets you up for a better experience when you’re on the trail, living through the depths of despair.
Just like a roller coaster, you have to ride through the lows in order to coast onto the highs. Prepare for it and you’ll keep on riding.