“It’s difficult to train for a marathon. It’s even more difficult to not be able to train for a marathon.”
Today marks, for me, the worst part of marathon training. More daunting than a 20+ mile run. More dreaded than under-the-toenail blisters. Maybe even scarier chafing. I’m talking about the taper. The dreaded taper.
A four-letter word (okay, it’s actually five) in the vocabulary of marathon speak, the taper is, in my opinion, the worst phase of training. I’m quite certain I warned Chris about it months ago so he could prepare for me to be very unpleasant. Yet, on the surface, it probably sounds fantastic. Allow me to explain.
The taper is the three-week (approximately) period between a runner’s highest mileage long run and the actual marathon. During the taper, said runner is to slowly decrease daily and weekly mileage – easing the burden on the body, preventing overtraining and allowing the legs to rest a bit before the big event. Sounds nice, right? Let me tell you, it’s not.
I’ve spoken to fellow runners throughout the years and most agree; they hate the taper. Everyone’s reasoning is different. My personal problem with the taper is simple – it’s an incredible mind f*ck. Picture it:
You’re about to run the biggest race of your life, pound out more miles in one run than you have so far. You’ve been building up your mileage and endurance for several weeks. You’re feeling strong, both physically and mentally. Your metabolism is on fire and you’re putting away more food than an NFL prospect during training camp. And now, just three weeks from the big day, you’re supposed to just stop all that?
For me, running is such a mental sport. Sure, it takes endurance and physical strength like any other sport. But your brain has to be onboard with your body. I don’t care how great of shape you’re in; the average person is not going to get up at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday and gut through a 20-mile run if they’re not mentally psyched about it, nor are they going to suck it up when they’re not feeling well or pass up happy hour to get in a run.
The rational side of me understands my body needs a break. I’ve been putting it through 20, 30 and 40+ mile weeks since January; forcing it to run sprints on speed work days; pushing it to run “just one more mile” on several occasions. And I did just run 22 miles this morning. But when it comes to running, there really is no rational side to me. Even with five marathons under my belt, I can’t get past the mental aspect of the taper. It feels wrong. I feel lazy and like a slacker. I’ve put in so much hard work for so long and now I’m easing up, this close to the finish? Almost like choosing to walk the last mile of the race, even though I’m not tired and I feel like I could sprint.
Of course, I’ll grit my teeth and follow the plan. Just don’t ask me if I’m going to scale back my caloric intake to that of a normal person. Because that would be crazy.
Runners, how do you feel about the taper? If you’re like me and a hater, how do you cope? Tweet me @runlikeagirl311.