With my next marathon in a mere 9 days, I’ll be the first to admit I am not a huge fan of tapering for marathons. I enjoy high mileage weeks and when they start to dwindle down to 4 or 5 milers on a weekday instead of 8-10 I get a little cranky. I need MORE. I can’t stand too much rest, and even on “rest days” I end up walking for at least an hour, just enjoying the fresh air, sunshine, and gorgeous Northeast fall splendor.
Lately I am learning to embrace the taper, because I realize it is important to toe the start line feeling refreshed and ready to run instead of burnt-out, achy and exhausted. In fact, this is especially true of running multiple marathons within a short time frame. So far, my minimum time between marathons is four weeks, and I find as long as I allow myself time to recover and maintain mileage, I fare even better than expected.
So here is some words of advice from someone who has run more than their fair share of marathons:
The Taper Gremlins Will Toy With You
In the final weeks and days leading up to your marathon, especially after your final 20-miler, you will likely experience little nagging aches and pains that will set off little alarm bells in your mind. What the hell is that? Is it a possible injury? Will I be able to finish my race, and if I do, will it sideline me for months? I know even the day before a race I even have had weird aches and pains spring up out of nowhere, and lots of doubts and fears plague me as the day progresses and the ache/pain shows no sign of disappearing. I can assure you, these aches and pains are simply taper gremlins toying with your mind, digging their claws into your brain, and 99 times out of 100 it’s all in your head, all nerves, and nothing to fear. Ignore them, and you’ll find those doubts and anxieties washed away in no time.
Embrace the Downtime
You’ll find that you suddenly have a lot more free time with less mileage. Take advantage of it! Take a nap, catch up on reading or that movie or show you’ve been meaning to watch. Sleep in a little longer (yes, I love any kind of extra sleep, especially since I usually only get 5-6 hours a night on weekdays). Do some spring cleaning and organizing. Any extra time you lamented that training stole from you in the past weeks, you can now take advantage of that extra time and really roll up your sleeves and get things done. Research for new races or work on your training calendar (I can’t be the only one that does this!) Still feeling antsy? If you’re anything like me, the answer is likely a resounding YES. Take a nice walk, go rollerblading, do some yoga, or take a leisurely bike ride; this is especially nice during the milder fall or spring seasons. Don’t worry about losing conditioning. A popular runner motto is “The hay is in the barn”, and all you have to do now is prove that you are capable of crossing that finish line. If you arrive at the start feeling refreshed both physically and mentally, you’re golden. After all, the final 6.2 miles of any marathon (what we call the second half of a marathon) is mostly mental anyway.
Still, Listen to Your Body
Taper Gremlins are one thing, but potential injuries are another. I have been extremely lucky in my years of running to never be sidelined by an injury. I imagine that it’s a devastating blow. If you have anything that’s more than a little nagging ache, something that causes you to shift your weight to one side, change your gait, and not seem to improve in time with ice, rest, massage or stretching, take a step back and take some time off. A lot of times when I had issues like this, I usually took off a day or two and would test the waters with walk/run intervals to see how I felt. If any pain cropped up, I would immediately back off and wait until the next day to try again. More often than not, my issues were from running in shoes way past their prime or overly tight muscles, but obviously there are a plethora of issues that could be causing these worrisome symptoms. I’ve only visited a sports medicine doctor once for some peace of mind and his blessing to continue my course. I find a doctor’s blessing to be the best kind of reassurance! Mine is especially great because he’s run marathons and sees nothing wrong with being a Maniac – my kind of guy!
If you’re anything like me, taper can be excruciating and the mileage withdrawal can be brutal. Shift your focus and remember WHY you are tapering, and in the end you will be glad you did and will do great on race day!