Tapering is the runner’s reward for months of training. It is time to let the legs rest and to store up energy before the big race. It is supposed to be a good thing, but for me, it rarely is. For me, I find that I am forced to taper before I actually feel ready to due to an overuse injury. At least that is what has happened to me each year before my annual marathon. It is either my shin, IT band, the top of my foot, or the bottom of my foot. It typically comes after my third or fourth 18-20 mile training run. It always stops me in my tracks. It hurts. Bad. And it always makes me doubt my ability to complete my marathon. Perhaps the most frustrating part of all of this stress is that I can’t run it off with a nice, long run. I have to settle for short runs and writing.
The injuries typically occur five to six weeks before my marathon, which is too early to taper. Ideally, I’d like to taper two to three weeks out from the race. The worst possible scenario would be to be injured on race day, so I’ll definitely take tapering a few weeks before I’d planned over not being able to race. Things could be so much worse. I am so grateful that I found running, and I want to stay healthy and keep running, so I have to pay attention to these overuse injuries. The injuries are my body’s way of telling me, “Relax, Dendy. You need to slow down. You will be fine on race day. You’ve done enough.”
Tapering is an emotionally charged, confusing time for runners. We know we will need to run 26.2 miles on race day and we want to run it at a competitive pace. We feel the need to practice. We need time to practice with hydration, food, shoes, socks, clothing, pacing, electronics, and a myriad of other worries that arise on our long training runs. We never have enough time to practice everything before race day approaches. We enjoy the pain that comes with long training runs. We enjoy the ritual of it. We need it. We feel lost without a long run tied to our week. For, it is something that we look forward to. It adds structure and depth to our lives. It enriches us in its ability to force us to examine our lives with a clarity that we can’t get at any other time. That long run is our time. It’s necessary, and we can’t do it when we are tapering, and that is torture.
When I’m tapering, I begin to question the training I’ve done. Did I get in enough quality long runs? Did I begin to add mileage too fast? If I had started adding mileage a week earlier, would my taper begin at the exact right time before my race? Can I actually run this marathon? I did it last year, but that could have been a fluke. Can I do it again? I find myself poring over my training logs, studying my splits and doing the same calculations for finish time I’ve done hundreds of times. I find myself thinking, “If only I had a few more weeks.”
The bottom line is this: I will not lose my endurance or speed by resting during the tapering process. In fact, resting is part of the process. I should be excited about the taper. I forced myself to compile a list of productive things I can do while tapering:
Plan my race day outfit.
Houston, Texas has bipolar weather, so I’ll plan a cold day outfit and a warm day outfit.
Make a new marathon day playlist.
I’m a 4 hour marathoner, so I need a lot of music. Last year I ran out. I’ve added quite a bit to my library since then.
Ice, stretching, Epsom salt-filled baths, and foam rolling.
I need to concentrate on relaxing any muscle kinks and tightness.
Make an appointment for a sports massage.
I know that I need to do this seven days before the race or more so that my muscles have a chance to recover and be fresh for the race. This is a luxury I don’t afford myself, so why not now? This will help calm me down during this taper.
Plan my high carb meals for the week leading up to my marathon.
I’m going to store glycogen in these muscles! I’m not entirely sure what that exactly means, but I’ve read that’s what I need, so ….
Plan all meals.
Focus on cutting out the alcohol and junk and adding more of the good stuff. Operation Detox for Chevron Houston Marathon 2016.
Plan my after-race picture with my medal.
Last year’s (my first marathon) was kind of boring. Just me standing there looking proud and satisfied. This year’s should be fun.
Use the extra time to finish the novel I’ve been reading. It’s getting really good.
Repeat this mantra to myself:
I WILL TRUST MY TRAINING. I WILL NOT TRY ANYTHING NEW RACE DAY.
Think positive thoughts.
I can do this. I have done this before. I will do it again. It will be another day to remember. It will be magic. It will be tough, but I am tougher.
Okay, I’m ready. Let’s go!