On Peaking for an Ultramarathon
Of the many mysteries surrounding 100-mile race preparation, none is more intriguing than peaking. It seems to me that getting the peak right is the single most important component in 100-mile success. Certainly, there are many other significant factors such as training, nutrition, race-day strategy, and adjusting expectations that come into play when running 100-milers, but finding that sweet spot and peaking for a race at just the right time seems to be the most important.
- Approximately eight weeks before the goal race, provided the foundation has been laid, each run feels easier than the last one. I have found this to be particularly true in those mid-week tempo runs when the miles just seem to flow by effortlessly. This is the time to step back and be sure not to overdue it.
- The long runs no longer feel too long. For me, it has always been a slog to get out in January, February, and March and log six and eight-hour runs. However, after doing so, come the middle of May, these long runs don’t seem so long and, in fact, the general feeling of fatigue that typically accompanied such runs is miraculously gone.
- Recovery between runs is faster and the “bounce” is greater. This one is funny because it’s really counterintuitive. Nonetheless, for some reason, once the switch has been switched and the training intensifies, recovery becomes easier and the ability to train harder is enhanced. If I can walk this line for three or four weeks without becoming worn down, I know I am close to hitting the peak right.
- I just know when to start the taper. Many training regimens lay out a specific cycle which is made up of base-building, peaking, and tapering and I am sure that makes sense to many people. For me, I like the idea of the first two and tend to prescribe specific time periods to each. But with the taper, I like to just go with the flow based on how close to the top of the peak I have come. In 2005, I did a nine-day taper and, in 2011, I did a 15-day taper. This year, well, who knows?
- An aura of calm peace descends on me with about three days to go before the race. This one, is of course, the most difficult to plan for and is, in my opinion, impossible to predict. However, when this aura of calm has come to me in ’05 and ’11, the feeling has been euphoric. I am sure others can relate to how extraordinary this can be. In fact, I recall reading a description of Kyle Skaggs’ calm aura in the days preceding his record run at the 2008 Hardrock and I felt a certain kindred spirit with him in that moment. (Even though I could never dream of running that fast.)
- How important do you think “peaking” is for a 100 miler?
- When have you felt like you nailed peaking for a race?
- Any tips for peaking at the right time?