PHYSICAL AND PRACTICAL PREPARATION Months 9 to 3 Before the Race
RUN A SERIES OF PROGRESSIVELY LONGER RACES BEFORE ATTEMPTING RACES OF 10 KM, 42 KM, OR LONGER
This provides you with the opportunity to become accustomed to the many distractions that accompany races, and offers a chance to practice any strategies you might have evolved.
Weeks 12 to 4 Before a Marathon or Longer Race
DO NOT COMPETE IN A RACE LONGER THAN 28 KM IN THE LAST 12 TO 16 WEEKS BEFORE A MARATHON OR ULTRAMARATHON
Part of the tapering process is deciding how many races to run in the weeks and months leading up to the race (Newton’s 5th rule of training; Fordyce’s 6th point of ultramarathon training). Other experienced runners who have expressed themselves on this topic include Osier (1978), Galloway (1983), Squires (1982), and Glover and Schuder (1983).
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All these writers agree that you need at least an 8-week recovery period after an all-out standard marathon race. I feel that this advice is too liberal and that full recovery of both muscles and mind takes a minimum of 12 to 14 weeks after a standard marathon.
Thus my advice is this: Don’t race marathons competitively more than once every 4 to 6 months. Recovery from races shorter than 25 km is probably much quicker because these races do not appear to cause significant muscle damage. For these races, Osier’s rule of 1 day of recovery per mile (or 2 kilometers) raced is probably adequate for the experienced runner; I suggest that the novice allow 2 days of recovery for each mile or 2 kilometers raced.
I believe that recovery from ultramarathon races probably takes disproportionately longer. I have found that I need a minimum of 12 weeks to even begin to start training properly after a short ultramarathon race of 90 km; I need a further 4 to 8 weeks before I can consider racing again. Furthermore, I have noticed that runners who compete in 160-km or 24-hour races may take 9 to 12 months of rest before they are able to race effectively. I suggest that although one may be able to race two marathons a year, anyone who wishes to race ultramarathons regularly for more than a few years should definitely limit these to one per year, possibly running one other long race either 3 to 4 months before or 4 to 5 months after that ultramarathon. Bruce Fordyce has used this knowledge to his best advantage by not running any marathon or longer races at 100% effort in the months before the Comrades Marathon. Athletes who have tried to do otherwise have inevitably paid the price for their indiscretions (Fordyce’s 6th point of ultramarathon training; Fordyce, 1985).
Fordyce has been able to win the London-to-Brighton race (which is held barely 3 months after the Comrades) 3 years in succession (1981 to 1983), and he established one of the world’s fastest 80-km times in the 1983 London-to-Brighton race. He also won the 1984 American Medical Joggers Association (AMJA) 50-miler in Chicago and the 1987 80-km Nanisivik Midnight Sun Marathon, two races held soon after the Comrades Marathon. This I ascribe to the fact that he starts the Comrades Marathon slightly undertrained and, with the exception of 1982 and 1985, has not run himself out in any long-distance race.
I believe it is much better to race short distances more regularly during the buildup for a marathon or ultramarathon and to save the pain and the muscle damage for one all-out effort. I believe that the athlete is capable of only so many really good races and must use this capability with the utmost discretion. Furthermore, I have learned that performance in your own chosen race cannot be predicted from how you performed in any marathon you might have run during the 12 weeks before that race. Rather, I suspect that the best measure of condition for both marathon and ultramarathon distances is your most recent time over a short distance event of 8 to 16 km (Fordyce’s 8th point of ultramarathon training) provided, of course, that you have been training for a distance event.
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