Taper Madness

I have a theory about the worst part of marathon training. But first, can we appreciate the glory that is a freshly opened container of peanut butter?

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That, my friends, is pure heaven.

But back to marathon training. The hard part, for me at least, is not the early mornings, or the decreased social life. It’s not the blisters or the aching knees. It’s not the high mileage weeks.

It’s the taper.

Tapering is that “lovely” time about 3 weeks out from the marathon when you begin to cut your mileage. The focus is on rest and recovery, and giving your legs time to gear up for the upcoming challenge. Unfortunately, as your legs are resting, your mind is going crazy. And what do we runners do when we’re stressed? We run. What do we do less of during the taper? Run. Say hello to that nice catch-22.

A marathon taper usually lasts about 3 weeks. You cruise into it off of your last longest run, and you might think that a little rest sounds nice. However, in the first week, you only cut your mileage by 10-20%. So while you’re expecting nice and easy taper-land, you’re not running too differently than before. Plus, it’s ideal if you keep up your intensity. Cut quantity, but not quality.

In the second week, you cut by 20-30% more, so you’re running at about 60-70% of your peak mileage. This week, your muscles have done some repair and you may fly through your workouts. You feel great, and you want to run more, but that dratted taper schedule tells you that you can’t. This is exactly when you don’t want to blow it on PR-ing in a 5K race just because you feel like you can.

In the final week, all sorts of fun things happen.

I start doubting that I can run at all, let alone 26.2 miles. Because if I didn’t run in 2 days, I might have forgotten how to do it, right?? Right??? The good thing is, at this point, you can trust your training. We runners are really good at setting goals and following through. Follow through on running 10 miles, even though it seems like less than 20.4. Numerically, it is. What it’s doing for your body and mind, is way more at this time.

I feel restricted. For some reason, my mid-range mileage weeks are always the hardest. But when I hit my peak weeks, I feel great! I’m ready to tack on extra mileage, and often throw in a shake-out run just because. Then suddenly the taper hits, and I’m supposed to be cutting miles??  However, this is not the time to push it, or make up for missed workouts. If you’re feeling good, crank up the intensity, but not the mileage. And don’t crank anything up the week before the marathon.

I get SUPER hungry. Some people get less hungry when they’re running less. As for me, I think my body realizes its got a chance to build itself up, and calls for all the nutrients it can get its hands on. During this time, it’s also normal to gain some weight, and not because you’re overdoing it because you’re used to high mileage and high fuel requirements. When your body stores glycogen, it also stores water with that glycogen. This means extra “water weight.” However, both the increase in glycogen and water will mean that you go into race day better fueled and better hydrated.

I feel really really sluggish and tired. This is because of muscle repair, and also telling myself to rest. Suddenly, going to bed at 9pm (and not getting up early for a run) sounds blissful. This is the time to listen to your body…. and not worry about feeling the same way on race day.

I have extreme urges to do every kind of cross-training available. I’ve got extra time and extra energy from not running as much. Weighted squats? Sure! A 40-mile bike ride? Why not! However, this is the time when cross-training should be cut out. You don’t want to go into your marathon sore from that weight-training session, and you don’t want to be giving your body anything new to repair. If you can’t resist, go for a long walk.

I get moody. Did I mention that runners run when stressed? Take that away, and you get one big ball of fun. However, knowing myself, this time around, I’m using my free time to be productive. This morning was the Atlanta Track Club 10-Miler. I didn’t feel good about pushing myself in a race so close to my marathon, so I volunteered to help at it instead.

I also tend to use all my free time to do things like arrange my apple slices in a decorative fan on my plate. I refuse to believe this is not normal.

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The rest of my time is going to be spent studying (of course), reading these beautiful books, and cooking and enjoying all things pumpkin from Trader Joe’s.

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How do you deal with taper tantrums?

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