It seems timely to write this blog now as I sit here thinking about the next challenge that awaits while experiencing the usual taper anxiety that comes before a big race. In 2 days time, we will FINALLY take on the Butcombe Trail Ultra – 56 miles of beautiful running in an AONB – the Mendips. To say it’s been a long time in the making is no exaggeration. 

The Butcombe Trail Ultra – The Story So Far

We are massive fans of the Butcombe Trail (you probably know that because we refer to it a lot). It’s our local stomping ground and we have trained on it since way before Covid. In fact, we were due to run it in April 2020. Unsurprisingly – we couldn’t. We carried on training for the revised version in September of that year. This time it was cancelled again! We had the option to run it virtually though which we did, but we opted for the 50 mile, slightly shorter version. In all fairness, we loved it but it just wasn’t the same without the conditions of a real race. The pubs weren’t available as checkpoints, there were no supporters on the course (apart from a few friends and family that popped up with fresh food for us) and there were no other runners along the way that either overtook us or that we caught up to. We were missing the whole race atmosphere. 

Have I Done Enough Training?

During our first attempt at Butcombe, we were really well trained though. We had used the lockdown time to train properly – intense weeks of training with long miles, cycling and core strength training. I survived the 50+ miles that we ran and felt fairly good after – nothing other than insatiable hunger and a few tired days to report. But this time it’s different. This time it’s been less intense, less time for training, less pressure (from myself) and more distractions – or are these the thoughts of someone tapering? I really can’t tell. I have done bigger weeks mileage wise than before, I just feel undertrained – again taper doubts creeping in.  Do I feel ready? Do we ever? Whatever race we are undertaking we get these same doubts:

  • Am I fit enough?
  • Have I trained enough?
  • Did I do enough hills?
  • Am I strong enough?
  • Should I be resting this much before a race?

The honest answer is we are always ready to get out there and run – it just depends what our expectations are. I know that I can run 56/57 miles – I know that. I don’t think I could do it as fast as perhaps I could if I trained harder, incorporated a bit more hill running, had had time for some cross training. There is always something we could have done. I was struck down by Covid about 6 weeks ago which meant I couldn’t run for 2 weeks. That set me back – or did it?

What Are Your Expectations?

At the end of the day my expectation is to run it, finish it and try and enjoy it then revel in the afterglow of having completed 57 MILES! I would like to do it in 13 hours – that seems a lot but there’s a lot of hillage. I am not planning on clock watching anyway.

It certainly won’t be pretty but I think experience adds a certain level of wisdom. I know I could be in top shape on the day and something could go wrong or I could be in average shape and have an OK race. That’s not to say it’s always been the case and for many runners the taper anxiety is very real. Some common thoughts include:

  • Why is my calf, hamstring, quad, foot… hurting? Oh god am I going to make it?
  • Why do my legs feel like lead? Obligatory crap run two days before is standard. In fact, if you don’t have a bad run two days out, have you even tapered?
  • I am eating soooo much – I’m going to get fat because I’m not running enough!
  • I haven’t done a long run for 3/4 weeks – how am I going to run that far?
  • 3 miles feels awful – how am I going to run an ultra?
  • What if my watch battery doesn’t last – orders portable charger from Amazon! 
  • Do I have the right kit? 
  • Will my trainers start to hurt (they never have before) 
  • What if I need a wee/poo? (Packs toilet tissue)
  • What if I can’t do it? 
  • I can’t sleep – I am going to be so tired (always the night before)
  • What if, what if, what if…

The Alternative Pre-Race Thoughts

So those were the thoughts that came out of my head. I then asked my running friends for their input. They also added to the list above with their sensible suggestions. Then I asked my dear friend who will be referred to as GP – GP brings the drama and keeps us all laughing. I asked her because I know what I will get. I laughed as I asked the question and she didn’t disappoint. These are her taper thoughts with some thrown in during her race:

  • If it rains, how do I reapply my bronzer 12 miles in?
  • How do I avoid the photographer?
  • If it rains, how do I keep my feet dry? Can I pack spare socks? 
  • I always wear new shorts (going against the rules). This backfired in London when everyone could see my backside. Literally. The whole way. Wedgies are us. However, the better you think you look the more confident you are! 
  • I just know I will need the toilet. This happened again in the awful London race and at 17 miles I couldn’t get back off the toilet. Literally couldn’t stand. Be prepared for that too! 
  • How do I avoid the negative thoughts. Oh the thoughts. I’m going to die. What if I don’t make it. I don’t even like running I’m just an overachiever
  • I know I won’t be happy at the end. Just p****d off with a few less toenails. Can’t celebrate because I’VE GOT S**T ALL ENERGY. 
  • What if my garmin malfunctions? If it’s not on Strava……
  • And as for live track by the way. Don’t even get me started. At mile 24 I’m like “how do I stop the live track”? Live track KNOWS I’m walking. Oh the shame 😂😂

Taper Anxiety is Perfectly Normal

We actually call it maranoia when tapering for a marathon. There will always be a certain level of nerves and taper anxiety if you are aiming for a certain time or putting in your best level of effort after a specific training programme. It wouldn’t be normal if you didn’t feel that way. I remember going to a half marathon a few months back – there were 5 of us in the car – a bundle of nervous energy all raring to go and all worried that we were going to have a dreadful day. 4 x personal bests and some very happy faces on the way home proved just how useful that nervous energy can be when it becomes energy. 

Try and Enjoy it

For me though, this is a course I love, on the Mendips which I love, with people who are great company and great friends. The organisers are brilliant, there is a pub at every checkpoint (no not for beer but for toilet stops and water/food). The best part about it is that it’s so close – my kids can pop up and say hi at the point where the trail passes the road where I live and my friends and fellow runners will no doubt pop up at certain parts of the course. The start and finish is 15 minutes from my house and I will be able to get myself home and fall into bed! 

So, this time, I am trying to view this as an adventure, a fun day out and something to be treasured rather than – S**T thats a really long way, how am I going to complete it? There will always be taper anxiety, we will always question ourselves even when we have ticked every single box on the training plan and are in the best shape ever. But… if we don’t set out to enjoy these things, why are we even doing it? 

Hopefully, you will identify with some of the above and find this useful – especially if you are winding down before a big race and experiencing taper anxiety. Don’t worry – it will all be fine and if it’s not – it’s not – you can just do it again!