Preparing for my first ultra-marathon, and taper-madness

I’m conscious that I haven’t posted for a while and people keep asking me how the training’s going, and whether I got over my motivational hump. I’m happy to report that any blip in enthusiasm is a dim and distant memory. My four-pronged attack of rest, cutting out alcohol, incorporating speed-work and entering a race culminates this Friday in my first ultra marathon: Druids.

An ultra marathon is defined as any distance longer than a marathon and Druids is roughly three marathons in three days along the length of the ridgeway. The reason for choosing this one is that it is a multistage event, like Marathon des Sables. So it will give me an idea of what running consecutive marathons will be like, but it is far enough out from April to give me time to completely recover before ramping up my training for the main event.

Training has been going well. I have got a few weeks in of more than 50 miles and have been tapering off the distance for the last couple weeks in preparation for the race. This results in a well-documented phenomenon and collection of symptoms known as ‘maranoia’. One of the main symptoms is a hypersensitivity to every ache, tweak and itch that makes it feel like you’re injured and won’t be able to race. One can also feel that you’re piling on the weight because you’re not running as much as you have been. Another symptom is ‘taper-flu’, where you seem to catch a cold just at the worst possible time. This is probably related to those colds that you seem to always get when you break up for the holidays, or after a period of intense work or effort. I’ve always believed that it’s something to do with not allowing yourself to be ill when it really matters, and then when you take your foot off the gas, and the pressure’s off, you permit yourself to get sick.

Maranoia hit me hard prior to my first marathon at Brighton last year. I was convinced that I had torn my calf, but it turned out to be quite a minor twinge, and I had a fantastic run. Just being prepared for maranoia seems to make it evaporate and loosen its hold over me, and it hasn’t struck with any strength since.

I might have overdone the taper. We shall see. But it is clear that it is better to go into a race undercooked rather than over-trained and injured. So fingers crossed and off we go bright and early tomorrow. Race report to follow shortly.

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