One of the questions I fielded as I started talking ultramarathons on this blog was, “What pre-race traditions do you have?” And I love this question because each person’s pre-race traditions are unique and hold a special meaning or purpose.
As for me? I’m mostly trying to stay sane!
Obsessively packing/re-packing my gear/bag: Chalk this one up to getting my start in triathlons. They require a lot of gear: hat (with race number), goggles, tri suit, race day tattoo, cycling shoes, cycling glasses, helmet, bike, pump, towel, running shoes, sock, bra, sunscreen, three types of food, two types of drink, and a GPS was a bare minimum. If I was missing one of those items, chances are I was going to be a DNS (did not start). Unlike road racing, ultras require a boatload of gear, with a minimum requirement established by the course director, so you don’t die. I’ll cover gear later but assume top, bra, socks, two to three pairs of shoes, hat/visor, food, drinks, sunscreen, GPS, and a pack are the bare minimum. If it’s long enough, assume you’ll add more shoes/socks and a flashlight with extra batteries to the mix. With that much gear and a high risk of a DNS/DNF for not having it, I tend to double and triple check my gear the night before. I have probably packed, unpacked, and re-packed it at home as well. I’m a little obsessed.
Trying to sleep (and failing): While I’ve never written it down, I probably don’t average more than four or five hours of sleep the night before a race. Unfamiliar bed, nerves, weird noises, and the constant fear I’ll oversleep what is always a very early alarm means I wake up often and usually abandon my bed by four or five.
Calling my loved ones: I’ve traveled solo to most of my races. Let’s face it, getting up early to sit around in the wilderness waiting for a single glimpse of your loved one isn’t exactly a thrilling vacation. Now that I have a kiddo, my husband and I are rarely able to race the same event. So, I tend to travel to races solo and always call my family the night before to say good night and let them wish me well.
Cataloging the number of toenails, cuts, and bruises I have: One is likely to decrease and the other two are likely to increase. It’s good to know what’s new.
Mentally gauging the other runners: We all do it. We’re all also really bad at it, especially in ultras. That middle-aged lady who looks like she’s comfortably settled into an extra fifteen pounds? Yeah, she’ll be kicking your ass by mile 20. The super lean yoked dude doing CrossFit stretches? Yeah, he’ll burn out by mile twelve and you’ll probably pass him retching in the woods at mile twenty. The slim string bean with a beard so wooly you think all his chest hair migrated to his face? Yeah, he’ll be done, have collected his medal and be headed home as you’re hitting the last aid station.
Triple checking my GPS battery: My poor aged Garmin 310XT has died on the USAF Marathon and the Mississippi 50, so I’m wary of the old girl. **Update (09/30/2020): I have a shiny new Garmin Forerunner 945 for my birthday and it’s awesome! It’s been going days without a charge and I’m looking forward to using it at MS50 and BUTS Bearly Ultra.
By now, you’re probably asking if I have any fun or cool traditions and I’m sorry to disappoint you, I really don’t. I’m neither superstitious nor religious so there are no funny dances, fervent prayers, tokens of luck, or pre-race foods I have to have. My traditions are all good (mostly) habits born of a long time doing endurance racing. There’s definitely not a stuffed green Cthulhu that I must sleep cuddled up to any time I travel for a race.
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