Last updated: 23-Aug-18
By James Eacott
The term ‘Maranoia’ has been bandied around for a few years now. Used to describe the feeling of lack of preparation leading into a marathon, it’s a very real condition. Did I do the right training? Have I eaten properly? Did I buy the right kit? Will my feet hold up?
These questions are frequently asked before an ultra, and the often irrational feelings are experienced in perhaps even larger doses due to the greater (or rather, longer) challenge on the near horizon.
The first thing to know is that it’s totally normal to question whether you’re ready for an ultra, particularly if it’s your first. It’s all too easy to let that doubt creep in and sabotage your last couple of weeks pre-race when you want to relax, confident in the knowledge that you’ve done the work required to reach your target.
But when it boils down to it, it’s simply a fear of the unknown…though seasoned racers can suffer even though they know what’s coming!
Having recognised that ultranoia is a real thing, there is plenty you can do to control your emotions when it strikes. Tackling ultranoia can be categorised into three approaches: physical, mental and nutritional tactics.
- Your taper period will coincide with ultranoia and the reduction in training is a key trigger of the condition! Tapering doesn’t mean you should cease all running completely – this will merely leave you tired and lethargic come race day. Instead, reduce the volume but keep some in intensity in your sessions. Easy runs which include some short sprints will keep your muscles firing without developing any deep fatigue.
- Resist the urge to panic-train. More miles will not make you faster at this stage. There is no fitness to be gained – excess miles will merely leave you more tired for the race.
- Rest as much as you can. Put your feet up and call in favours to do the shopping, cooking and ironing. You can repay these favours after the race but calling them in now will help you chill out a little more than normal.
- Rest assured you’ve made the right kit choices. Don’t let ultranoia trick you into thinking a new pair of shoes or socks will make you faster on race day. Use familiar equipment that you’ve tried and tested and be confident in your choices.
- Get the Zzzzz in. Sleep is crucial to recovery and recent research has shown you can actually ‘bank sleep’ in the lead up to an event. Do not underestimate the importance of quality sleep.
There are many mental strategies you can use in the lead-up to an ultra to ensure you remain calm and collected.
- Utilise visualisation. Foresee what you’ll feel like the night before, the morning of, and during the race. Visualise feeling strong. Visualise feeling weak. Visualise what you’ll do when you encounter the highs and lows that will come during an ultra. If you’re able to foresee these scenarios in your mind beforehand, you’ll deal with them better on race day because they’ll be expected, anticipated and not an ‘unknown’.
- Review your training. Sure, some of us will have had a less-then-ideal build into the race, but most will have banked a lot of miles. Think back to those long runs. Those runs where you didn’t want to carry on. Those runs where you desperately wanted to stop but managed to dig deep and push through. You did it then, and you’ll do it on race day.
- Social media has many benefits but during ultranoia it can be the devil, so I’d suggest giving it a wide berth. If you do use social media, remember that lots of people exaggerate how much training they’ve done, how fast they are and what methods they’re using to taper! Everyone thinks they’re an expert, and it can be hard to ignore.
- Nail the pre-race logistics in advance. Do you know where and when you need to register? What time you need to wake up on race morning? When and what you’re going to eat for breakfast? What time you want to be at the start line? It sounds a bit OTT but having a little timetable / structure to the last day or two before your race can really help ease your nerves.
- Your body will be tired in the ultranoia phase. You’ve done the training and chances are you’ve restricted lots of those tasty treats for a few weeks. But now is not the time to binge on your favourite ice cream. Eat plenty but make sure it’s what your body needs: healthy carbs, good protein and lots of veggies. Not only will your body thank you, but your mind will be calmer if you feast on nutritionally-dense food.
- It’s worth loading up on vitamins in the last week or two before a race, just in case. A balanced diet will have you covered, but this extra layer of security will help keep your body and mind happy.
- In addition to the above, be cognisant of washing your hands, keeping away from people with colds and consider taking some zinc, magnesium and echinacea to support your immune system.
- Keep those electrolytes coming in. Ensure your muscles can function optimally by keeping your sodium, potassium and magnesium levels topped up.
- Hydrate. As training volume decreases, you may forget to drink so keep a water bottle on you at all times and be cognisant of taking a swig at regular intervals.
- It may sound obvious but avoid excess alcohol! There’s nothing worse than turning up to the start of a race unsure what day of the week it is.
Have a plan and stick to it. Create this plan when you’re in a normal, sound (sane!) state. Plan meticulously when you’re going to run, what you’re going to eat and when you’re going to devote 10 minutes per day to mental preparations.
Doing this, and following it, during the 7–10 days leading into a race will give you confidence that ultranoia is not something you need to succumb to.