The Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon is just under two months away. While this may seem like it’s still a while away, don’t get into your comfort zone just yet. Tapering is necessary. For an ultra, you need to start at least three weeks before D-day. Here Nolene Conrad, legend and winner of the Two Oceans Half Marathon, shares what works for her and how to prep for the big day…
Carbo load, or nah?
Many people think they need to switch up their diet before a big race. But Nolene advises otherwise. “I usually advise people to stick with what they know,” she begins. “It also [depends on] what their body is used to.” In fact, it’s a risk to switch things up last-minute. “Your body might not respond well to the change in diet, which can cause problems leading up to race day.”
READ MORE: When Should You Run An Ultra Marathon?
What she does advise is water – and more water. “Increase your water intake in the week leading up to the race. It’s important to stay well hydrated during the day, so take a water bottle wherever you go.” But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing: “If you feel or hear sloshing in your stomach, it’s telling you it’s full.”
“There is no set diet – everyone is unique,” explains Nolene. Pasta and carbs work for some people, while others prefer to up their protein intake. “Find out what works for you,” she says. This should preferably be done before the week leading up to race day. “I recommend staying away from spicy and creamy foods that could upset your stomach,” Nolene adds. Her preference? Spaghetti Bolognese.
Running an ultramarathon is nothing to be sneezed at. It’s next-level. So the training has to be next-level too. “Five weeks prior to the race, the bulk of your mileage work should be done,” Nolene says. “Tapering is necessary because your body needs to recover from the strenuous training loads you’ve been doing.”
For a marathon or ultramarathon, you should begin tapering three weeks before your race. But what does this mean? “In the taper period, your mileage decreases and you should keep doing your intensity workouts,” Nolene explains. “But [don’t] go crazy – keep the sessions controlled.” In the three weeks prior to a marathon or an ultra, this is what Nolene’s training looks like, week three: 140km, week two: 120km and, finally, week one: 80-90km.
The night before
“Go to bed early!” Nolene says. Getting enough shut-eye is critical. But before heading to bed, “set out your racing kit, gels and drinks. Pin your numbers to your vest. Check that your watch is fully charged (or charge it). Pack your bag so everything is easier for you in the morning.”
Once that’s sorted – bed. “If you usually go to bed at 9pm,” Nolene adds, “be in bed by at least 8pm before a race.” This means you’ll have time to fall asleep because those pre-race jitters are a thing. “Try to get your mind off the race. It’s difficult, but try to read a book – it helps.”
Marathons are just as mental as they are physical – the right mindset can mean the difference between starting and finishing. Nolene uses four different mental techniques to get herself through the physical challenge that a race of this distance poses.
First up, visualisation. “I start visualising myself running the race and finishing it, obtaining the goals I set for the race,” she explains. “I also visualise how I would deal with a problem in a race – should something go wrong.” She starts doing this as soon as she starts tapering. It’s part of the training.
Next up, calming techniques. “You need to find out how to keep yourself calm and in the zone,” Nolene continues. This is especially important should something go wrong.
Imagery is also a useful technique. “I normally try to not focus so hard in the beginning stages of the race,” she explains. “I take in the views, focus on my breathing and try to run with a pack so it feels effortless.” You need to save up your energy for later on. What also helps are a few motivational vids to psych yourself up before the race. Try Nike – Dream Crazier if you haven’t already watched it. This helps during the race when you can reflect back on the words and triumphs of the movie.
Finally, break your race up. “This helps a great deal,” Nolene says. “Breaking it up doesn’t make it seem so daunting.” She does this even in shorter races and finds she can push harder as a result.
Covering the distance
“Be patient,” Nolene advises. “That is one of the hardest lessons I’ve learnt in the marathon.” It’s tempting to run fast in the beginning stages because you’re feeling fresh, but this way the distance will seriously hurt you. “Hold back at least until half way,” she adds. “It’s important to work out your paces before the race and to find the pace that’s comfortable for you.”
If you want to be able to walk the day after your race, recovery is key. “You need to start taking recovery drinks within 30 minutes to one hour after finishing the race,” Nolene says. “It will help repair your muscles and replenish your glycogen stores. You can grab a sports drink, yoghurt, a protein bar or a healthy post-workout snack that includes carbohydrates, protein and some healthy fats.”
“Just as your diet post-race is important, so is rest,” she concludes. “I try and do ice baths and massages in the first three days to relieve some of the soreness and pain.” And take a break. “Take two weeks off running, then get back into it slowly.”