Not that I consider a 50k a “real” ultra distance (it’s really a marathon with a 5 mile cool down), but distances greater than the marathon run on trails deserve a discussion on tapering. I, personally, don’t believe in any kind of tapering for ultra distances. The awesome thing about trail running and ultra trail racing is the training involved; the long miles, the climbs, the hours we spend on our feet. I believe ultra trail runners are unique in that we enjoy the challenges presented to us on our daily runs. There is a dedication to our craft that make it hard for us to taper.
I should have prefaced my thoughts on tapering by saying that I’m not on any kind of training plan. My only “plan” is to gradually build to 85 weekly miles. The race I’ll be running this Saturday came to my attention three weeks ago. Race planning consisted of looking over the course and aid stations on the course. I didn’t even think about any tapering strategies since most plans are three weeks out of a target race. Besides, there were some awesome conditions on my local trails that couldn’t be ignored.
I see the need for people to taper only if they plan on being competitive in a race. For the 99.9% of us we can do more by skipping the taper and using our “races” as an extension of our training; an opportunity for us to test our limits and increase our ability to endure pain in a competitive setting. Tapering produces the belief that an upcoming race is something bigger than what we’re able to accomplish. This mindset dooms us in that we become too timid in our pursuit to extend our capabilities. We become nervous about the race and not able to enjoy the total experience.
In short, skip the taper and enjoy more miles on the trails.