It’s May 18. Two weeks from tonight in Casper, Wyoming, barring meteorological or physical calamity, I will have completed my eighth marathon in less than five years but my first in nearly 20 months. This means I’ll probably be digesting some well-earned red meat, be a little sore, a lot happy, and super exhausted. It also means that I’m tapering right now.
For the uninitiated into marathon training, for all intents and purposes your training traditionally “ends” three weeks prior to race day with a long run of 20 miles or a bit more. Then, after several months in which your mileage had steadily increased by the week, it gradually decreases (tapers) to let your body heal and gain as much strength as possible for the race. In the final seven days before the marathon, you may not even run 10 miles total, depending on what you individually choose to do. You’d think this period of tapering would come as a welcome relief and reward after the many long Saturday mornings of increasingly ridiculous mileage. Well, that would be nice, but it’s not that simple.
To be sure, tapering has a few positives. You no longer must sacrifice your entire Saturday morning for running, as you’ve been doing for the past couple of months. You actually can feel yourself getting stronger during it if you’re in tune with that sort of thing. And there’s a certain peace of mind in knowing that you’ve already done all you can do to build your endurance so there’s no sense in worrying much about it anymore. Your training is baked into the cake and now out of your hands.
Yet, these positives of the taper inevitably seem to get overshadowed in practice. While in a sense it might seem nice for your training to be out of your hands, in another sense a feeling of helplessness sets in, since you know in your heart of hearts that you really cannot whip yourself into shape for a better race this late in the game. In fact, if you tried to do that, you’d be taking the risk of getting injured, which would be even worse. Runners do not like the feeling of their performance being out of their hands. This antsy feeling only gets compounded by the relative lack of mileage you are experiencing compared to what you’ve been doing. If you haven’t gone through this process yourself, imagine the feeling you get when you’ve been used to daily exercise and then skip the gym for a couple of days. Then, compound that a bit. That’s what it feels like. Thinking reasonably, you know you’re not being a slug. But no matter how much logic and reason you employ, you can’t help but feel like a slug. You begin checking the extended weather outlook for race day several times each day. You begin to second-guess your every dietary decision. You attempt to get precisely eight hours of sleep each night, because any more or less could be detrimental. You try to remember in your mind exactly how many miles are on your running shoes (another thing you shouldn’t change this late in the game). You aim to drink plenty of water while not so much that you overhydrate. You become…. a bit of a basket case.
Then, because of all this basketcaseness, and because you are constantly thinking of your marathon, you feel like you want to talk to anyone who will listen about your race and your taper and the anxious misery you are going through. The thing is, at the same time you also feel like a total (insert derogatory term here) for even wanting to bring it up. Because, like your fantasy baseball team, nobody wants to hear about it. I ran two hours on Saturday and I feel like a slug. What kind of jerk says such a thing? I want to smack myself for even thinking such a thing. It’s like listening to the town rich guy (if your town has a rich guy) whine about how his portfolio only gained 2% last quarter. Boo hoo. Even though your feeling of inadequacy may be genuine, you come off sounding arrogant and nobody wants to hear it.
Because of this, it’s almost essential to have running friends. These people probably won’t really want to hear it, either, but at least they can empathize since they’ve been there. And then you can repay the favor the next time they’re tapering and feel the need to whine.
Sorry for making you read all this. I’m sure you didn’t want to hear it. By the way, the June 1 forecast for Casper is looking lovely. But I just discovered tonight that Casper’s altitude is just about as high as Denver’s. Oh…. no…. It’s out of my hands, it’s out of my hands, it’s out of….
I love running. But not tapering. But it’s for the best.