With the taper period for the upcoming Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 underway, I think it’s fair to say that sh*t’s getting real.
As well it should, being just 10 days away.
And as the reality that in less than two weeks I’ll set out to run 103.7 miles in one push sets in, nerves, doubts, and a slew of other emotions are popping up.
This is normal for me before any big race, and thankfully, over the years, I’ve come up with ways of coping.
Ways to calm my nerves and prepare for the race without going crazy.
With a race like a 100 mile ultramarathon, dealing and preparing up front is all that much more important. Some of my family and friends will be driving several hours to come support and crew this journey, and I want to make sure I have everything together not only for me, but out of respect for them as well.
Below I get into all the details of how I’m preparing for the upcoming 100 miler (my first) and how I’m dealing with the nerves and doubts. While I think this process could be applied to anyone running a 100, most of what I suggest is also applicable to races of all distances.
I hope that you’ll find it interesting and useful.
Dealing With Pre-Race Nerves
Dealing with the nerves.
Really that’s what all this preperation is about, right?
After all the work is done, resting and relaxing the weeks before the race is crucial.
Usually my pre-race nerves don’t pop up until a few days before the race.
Not this time.
I’m already having dreams and laying awake in bed thinking about the momentous act in front of me. I feel more pressure than usual not to let down those supporting me. And having worked so hard for months, I feel more pressure not to let down myself too.
As we’ve all experienced, there isn’t much you can do about nerves like this. Most of what you’re nervous about can’t be addressed until you’re actually out there running.
But sitting around just makes it worse, which is why I like to go ahead and get things done. Focus on the rest of my training and preparing everything I can head of time.
Trust Your Training
The past month of training hasn’t been ideal.
With everything that went into my recent move to North Carolina complicating running plans, and a 50 miler that required recovery time due to some beat up toes, I wasn’t able to get in as high of mileage as I would have liked.
But now my legs are feeling great, the toenail in question has fallen off, and I have lots of time to spend running up the mountains. Which makes me far too tempted to keep pushing.
I feel like a kid with a cookie jar.
I can’t help but thinking that maybe a few more big climbs will do me good and better prepare me for the race.
I usually feel this way during the taper period, but experience has taught me that the taper is one of the most important parts of your training.
Without proper rest, all the work you’ve put into the training period could go to waste. So as temping as it may be to eat one last cookie now, that cookie just might upset the stomach. And we definitely don’t want that.
Trust that all the blood, sweat, and tears that have gone into the past several months are good enough. Trust that rest is more important than additional strength.
Trust that my training will get me to the finish.
If you’re legs are itching to go for a run before your race, you haven’t tapered long enough.
Preparing Mentally for the Challenge
Part of what scares me most about this particular race are all the unknowns.
- What will it be like to run over 100 miles straight?
- How will my body handle moving forward for well over 24, even 30 hours?
- Will my toes be able to handle the irritation that comes from powering down so many descents?
- What happens if my stomach can’t hold anything down?
I could probably list out a question for each mile, but that would make for a terrible blog post.
Before any big race, we’re faced with a series of unknowns. Unknowns about the course, our bodies, and how we’ll feel on race day.
Not being prepared for those unknowns is what kicked my butt during my first 50k ultramarathon, and why I spend so much time addressing unknowns in the ultramarathon beginner’s guide.
Most we can’t control. So instead, we need to focus nervous energy into what we can control.
While I can’t spend any more time running on the course itself, I can spend a lot more time studying it. Here’s a few ways I focus the nervous energy into something productive:
1) Map out the course on an actual map, noting all aid stations and dividing the course up into sections. In this case, I’m using a National Geographic map. If you’re running a city marathon, a simple city map or Google map would do just fine.
Even if you have a good course map from the race organizers, mapping it out yourself will help you get a better feel for each section.
2) Create section summaries for each major section of the course. I got this idea from Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete, who shared with me his crew sheets, which were designed to help prepare the crew for each aid station.
I decided to take it to a new level and type out a sheet for each section, even those that the crew would not be able to reach, in order to get a better feel and breakdown each leg. I’m using the sheets to study the course for myself now, but will pass them off to the crew for use on race day.
Here’s what I’ve included in the section summaries:
- Name of aid station,
- Mile marker,
- Miles to next aid station,
- Miles to next crew access,
- Estimated time to next crew access,
- Description of section (elevation, terrain, etc),
- What to have ready at this aid station (gear, nutrition),
- And additional notes.
Even though I’ve run on some of the actual course, I didn’t feel like I had a good grasp on how it flowed and what I’d be facing. This exercise has helped me get to know the course better and feel more comfortable with each leg.
3) Envision race day during training runs. Lately I’ve been spending time during each run envisioning race day.
To think about how I’ll feel. About what I’ll need. About family and friends supporting me. And the rush from making my way closer to the finish line.
All positive thoughts. I’m trying not to let negative thoughts or doubts creep in.
The only way I can prepare mentally for the race is to put myself in it as much as possible.
Setting Up the Logistics and Preparing Physically
Another big part of calming nerves before a big race is to take care of all the logistics well in advance.
This frees your mind to focus on what’s important, and not be cluttered by all the small stuff.
Here are a few things I’ve already prepared and thought through:
- Transportation: To/from check-in, to/from start.
- Crew logistics and transportation: Where they’ll meet me, how they can get there (for marathoners, consider your spectators and where/how they could find you).
- Drop bags: What should go in them, dividing it all out ahead of time.
- Full gear list: Divided into what I’ll need at the start, and what the crew should have throughout the race. I’ve posted the full gear list, which you can check out here.
- Food/Nutrition: Another tip from Matt applicable mostly to ultramarathons. Have a full list of food items the crew is carrying. They can hand you the list to review as you pull into an aid station, so that you can choose only what sounds good or tolerable. Many runners will not have much additional food from what is provided at an aid station, but having a full range of options is particularly important for plant-based athletes or those with dietary restrictions like myself. I’ve posted the full food/drink list, which you can check out here.
- Non-race clothes: Warm clothes for before the race, and a change of clothes (and shoes) for after the race.
As for preparing physically, now’s the time to focus on things like foam rolling, getting lots of sleep, and avoiding anything too strenuous or new.
Continuing to run regularly is part of the plan, but now’s not the time to try out a new peak link-up or play tackle football.
Trying a new beer? Well, that is still OK.
Having Fun With It
It’s easy for me to lose sight of how this is fun.
Nerves and doubts will do that.
So I’m approaching all these tasks as just part of the enjoyment. It’s going to be fun to get out and think through all my gear. And it’s going to be fun to study the course and prepare my notes.
The more fun I’m having, the more excited I’ll be. That excitement will translate into a great day in the mountains.