It’s the eternal puzzle for runners I suppose: how much tapering is right before a race? The question is on my mind at the moment because I’m gearing up for the first of the Lakeland Trails 2009 series on Saturday, which takes place in and around the picturesque village of Hawkshead in the Lake District.
The thing is, it’s only a 15k, albeit one which includes a couple of very steep uphill sections, including a one mile stone staircase that’s poetically called ‘The Coffin Trail’ (unless I’ve misunderstood, and it’s actually the ‘coughin’ trail’, which sounds equally likely, having studied the frankly terrifying course profile from the website). Now, as any half way serious runner will tell you: while you need to taper for anything from a half marathon upwards, you really shouldn’t need to taper for a 15k fell race. Well, that’s the accepted wisdom anyway.
However, maybe it’s just because I’m well into middle age, but I always find that a full week off training before a race does me the world of good, allowing me to turn up on the line feeling much more fresh and rested than if I’d run within the last 2-3 days. It’s a theory I’ve tested a few times now, and which has absolutely always worked for me.
And so, having knocked out roughly 25 miles a week for the last couple of months, ending with a 12 mile mixed road and trail session last Saturday, I’m spending the week working from home and chilling out as much as possible, apart from doing a few stretches twice a day, just to make sure I don’t tense up too much without my regular mid-week 6 milers. But lest you think that I’ve grown soft with age, this is the course profile for Saturday’s 15k.
The low points are roughly at sea level, while the high points are a shade over the 200 metre mark. So I’m assuming that the final big ascent between 11k and 13k will be the much vaunted Coffin Trail. I would further postulate that I’m going to be in really bad shape if/when I make it to the 13k point.
But having shared my dazzling cleverness with you all in suggesting that a week off before races as tough as this is a really good idea, I should also ‘fess up to my immense stupidity in failing, yet again, to read the race notes thoroughly before putting my entry in for this event.
Why you should always read the race notes…
You see, there are actually two overlapping events in Hawkshead on Saturday: the Puma Hawkshead Trail Race and the Puma Hawkshead Challenge. I blithely entered for the Race, assuming that the Challenge would be, well, more of a challenge. But, as is traditional on these occasions, I have cocked up badly.
Thus it is that at 13.15 on Saturday, the Challenge people will set off at their own pace to walk, run, jog, dander or sashay their way around the course in a welter of bonhomie and Werthers originals; having a lovely time and stopping to enjoy the view every now and then, secure in the knowledge that they’re just there to have a good time.
At 2pm, however, many of Cumbria’s most serious and sprightly fell runners will be lining up to tackle the Race, which covers the same 15k course as the Challenge, albeit at quite a bit more speed.
Frankly, however much rest I give my legs this week, I don’t think I’m going to be able to stay with them. And so, I have an alternative plan, which is as follows. Before the Challenge sets off, I’m going to earmark the least competitive-looking competitor I can see in the crowd, and designate them as ‘the Fox’, regardless of their sexual attractiveness, or, indeed, their sex.
My task then, is to pass ‘the Fox’ before the finish – having afforded them a more than generous 45-minute head start. It looks like an uphill struggle, but I’m certainly going to give it my best shot. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and put my feet up…