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It’s still the first half of February, but I’m already making final preparations for race season. I have a busy spring scheduled, with several fun races.

If you’re curious, here’s what’s coming up:

  1. Black Mountain Marathon (trail marathon, part of the Mount Mitchell Challenge) on February 28th
  2. Thomas Jefferson 100k on March 14th
  3. Black Mountain Monster: 24 Hours on May 16th and 17th

All firsts for me. My first trail marathon. My first 100k. My first 24 hour race. I have high expectations and excitement for all three.

Since my last race in October, I’ve taken a completely different approach to running and training.

Instead of following a strict schedule, I’ve slowly increased my weekly mileage and kept the intensity steady up until now. There were no peak weeks, and the recovery weeks were only built in around other events: holidays, vacation, travel, etc.

The goal was this: Build as strong of a base as I can before the race season starts.

This approach has been a ton of fun. I run whatever route I feel like that day and (tactfully) run whatever distance I feel up to. Some of the days have been huge, while other “long” runs haven’t actually been that long.

It’s taken me up new mountains and included a ton of slow vertical gain, also something new to my training.

Even though I didn’t follow a schedule or run as many true workouts as I might have from following a strict training plan, I’ve had a lot of fun. And I feel strong.

Most importantly, I feel ready to race.

Final Runs Before a Race

With about 2.5 weeks before the first race, and only two weeks between that one and the next, I’ve already started shifting my head and running from training mode to racing mode.

To give you an idea of what that means to me mileage wise, here is my typical schedule for the two and a half weeks prior to a race:

Two weeks out: Final true long run. This is typically not my longest run of the training, but a solid long run nonetheless. I prefer to keep the longest run at 3 weeks out in order to allow for full recovery.

I use this long run to really push the pace and test my training. It’s also an opportunity to test any new gear or clothing, and really hammer out my nutrition before the race.

10 days out: Final long-ish run. Distance depends on the distance of the race, but I’m using this run to keep mileage up and my muscles and joints lubricated. I’ll add in a little tempo action towards the end of this run.

7 days out: No long run, just easy miles at a medium distance.

4 days out: Final real run with a few miles at tempo. Adding in a little speed a few days out keeps the legs and juices flowing.

2 days out: 2-3 easy miles, plus 3 strides. The strides enhance muscle tension in the legs.

1 day out: 2-3 mile easy shakeout.

Race day: Go time.

In addition to what I’ve listed above, I’m continuing to run other days during those two weeks. Those runs will be at a slow/easy pace, ranging from 4-6 miles.

Other Things to Consider

Nutrition

The final week before a race, I’m paying particularly close attention to my nutrition. I want to eat clean and eat plenty. I’m also putting extra effort into staying hydrated and reducing the amount of alcohol I consume.

Sleep

Before a big race, especially an ultramarathon where you’re running for many hours, getting plenty of sleep is particularly important. I go to bed early, and I make sure to stick to healthy nighttime habits.

Gear Preparations

Part of sleeping well means removing stress. I’m one to toss and turn all night worrying about my gear before a big race. To avoid that stress, I make sure to get my gear together two days before a race.

That way I have the opportunity to double check everything the night before and sleep worry free.

This includes:

  • Fuel
  • Hydration equipment
  • Clothing
  • Shoes
  • Lube/band-aids
  • GPS
  • Miscellaneous gear such as a headlamp or gloves, which all depend on the conditions of the race.

Crew Information

I believe that it’s incredibly important to do as much preparation work as you can for your crew or family before a race. I’ve gone as far as to create race packets for each person cheering me on out on the course. Before the hundred miler, I printed out every map, set of directions, and guide I could think of, and made a special grocery run just for my crew.

Your crew is out there to support and cheer for you, the least you can do is make their job as easy as it can be.

Preparing for Back to Back Races

As I mentioned above, two weeks after the Black Mountain Marathon I’ll be headed up to Virginia for the Thomas Jefferson 100k. During those two weeks I’ll focus on recovery and maintenance.

The 26 mile long run will be great for preparing for the 100k, but a typical training plan wouldn’t include all the tapering I did for that marathon.

Because I’ll need to taper again, I plan to basically start over. After a few easy recovery runs, I’ll more or less repeat the final two weeks of taper I just did. Things will of course shift around as I listen to my body and rest as I need to, but that will be the goal.

Trust Your Training and Have Fun

It’s easy to get caught up in all the tweaks before a race, and it’s only natural to second guess any of the training you put in to that race during the final weeks.

Trust your training: You did what you did and at this point there’s nothing more that can be done. Trust all the blood, sweat, and miles. Your hard work and mental strength will get you across the finish line, something I have to remind myself before every big race.

Have fun: Enjoy the lower mileage and final weeks of excitement. Stress will only make things more difficult.

Racing is one of my very favorite things. To me it doesn’t matter if I’m in the back of the pack or first across the line (which I’ve never been and probably never will be), racing is an opportunity to celebrate all the hard work I put in to getting there, and to push my body to new limits.

Let the race season begin!

Author Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running -- beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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