How about instead of another boring weekly workout recap, we take a minute to talk a little bit about taper?
If you’ve been around the running world for more than a minute you’ve heard about the good ol’ “taper crazies”, or “taper madness,” when runners start go batty as they cut back on their mileage and gear up for their big races.
I always feel kind of left out when people talk about the “taper crazies”, because I don’t really get them. Not the way they are frequently talked about, anyway. People talk about it as basically freaking out because they wish they could be running more in order to make themselves feel more confident about their upcoming race, but they can’t. Well, that hasn’t happened to me. I’m not saying this to brag or anything, because as you’re about to see, I’ve got my own issues going on.
If that’s what is meant by taper madness, then I struggle with what I like to call “reverse taper madness.” What happens to me is the opposite of what apparently should be happening – instead of getting antsy about running less, I sort of shut down. Even though I know what taper will entail, I still get resentful of the fact that yes, I do still have to run more than 15 miles a week and no, taper is not synonymous with “complete rest.”
Most runners I know are sittin’ here during taper all like “what if I can’t perform well on race day because I’m not running enough right now and I’ve lost my fitness??“, while I’m thinking “what if I can’t perform well on race day because I’m STILL too tired??”
People say the last week of taper is the hardest, but I actually think it’s the first week of taper that’s the hardest. It’s such a tease. Even though I get to tell myself I’m officially in taper mode, I’m still running 40+ miles for the week, which is a lot (my first week of taper was my peak mileage in my last marathon!). It’s a cutback week that doesn’t have the benefit of actually feeling restful and honestly, it’s brutal. I guess that’s just me.
Physically I’m not having any issues and my running has been normal. My paces are the same, as is the level of effort I exert when I run them. I’m feeling good during and after my runs. So that’s good.
But mentally I feel like I’m turning into a vegetable. I just can’t do anything lately. I have grossly neglected household chores, maintenance, and cooking. I’ve put off my reading and my blog writing and gotten behind on all of that. My Habits Project has been pretty much non existent these last few weeks (except for flossing! WHOO HOO!). I’m so mentally tired that even vegging in front of the TV seems like too much effort! It’s like my mind and my motivation are turning to sludge. Running itself may not make me tired, but thinking about it sure does. I used to look forward to running after work, now I spend the afternoon dreading it. I’m just so sick of it. This week will be the first time in I don’t know how long that I can actually do an evening run that is less than 7 miles. I feel like my whole day revolves around waiting for my run to be over with so I can move on.
Where many runners say taper makes them feel like antsy, anxious little kids, it makes me feel like a jaded, rebellious teenager – so annoyed that the tedious, cumbersome routine of high mileage training is STILL DRAGGING ON.
All this brings me into my biggest fear right now – I’m terrified that my residual cumulative fatigue isn’t going to go away in time for the race. To be clear, I think I trained well and I don’t regret anything I did – I knew that cumulative fatigue was part of the package and I embraced it. I know that training my body to run on super tired legs every week was invaluable preparation for the demands of the marathon. I don’t know why I thought it would magically disappear the minute I finished my 20 miler and started taper. I’m doing exactly the mileage I should be doing for my taper weeks…but the race is less than 2 weeks away now and I’m only just now starting to come out of my funk and see the light at the end of the tunnel. What if my built-up fatigue is so great that 3 weeks isn’t enough time for it to go away?
Of course, I’m scared of taking additional rest because I’m already right at the edge of what percentage I should be cutting back (10-20% of peak mileage each week…I actually ended up cutting back 25% this week). I’m already trying not to worry that I cut back this week from my planned total of 43 to 40.5 (.5 off one of my easy runs and taking my long run down from 15 to 13.1…although I did it at goal MP in 8000% humidity so I feel like that’s kind of the equivalent of 15 miles at long run pace, right?). Is the line between over-tapering and under-tapering really this thin? Good grief. This is the hard thing about listening to your body when you make changes: you go with your gut in the moment, and then just pray that you made the right decision.
Another hallmark of “taper madness” is questioning how the heck you can hit your goal paces on race day, and this is one I can actually relate to. But I don’t see how this is unique to taper. Most of you know that I’ve been going up and down on the doubt-o-coaster for months now. Whether I feel confident or not depends on the day, sometimes even the hour. If I had a dollar for every time I went back and forth between “I’m doing so awesome! I’ve so got this! Heck, maybe I’m even underestimating myself, maybe I could even hit 3:45 or below!” and “oh what the hell am I thinking? Just because I can hit these paces on an 8 or 13 mile run doesn’t mean I can hold them for 26.2! For cryin’ out loud, that’s two half marathons without stopping!!”, I’d be able to pay the entry fees for all of my races for the next two years.
I’m just glad this week is here. I really believe that the hardest part is over and it only gets easier from here on out. I’m only running 22 miles this week and then 10 for my final long run, for a total of 32. I feel like I can breathe again. My runs this week are 6, 4, 7, and 5 (maybe in that order, maybe not), and that makes me soooooo happy. I’m pretty sure the last time I only ran 4 miles in one day was back in March. This week will be so much more relaxing and the running much less time-consuming – now that is the taper I’ve been craving!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I also haven’t been taking the best care of myself these last few weeks. I had wanted to plan a bunch of healthy meals for my first week of taper and that never happened. I ended up eating out all week, although to my credit, I did make a lot of healthy choices in doing so. But I didn’t get nearly enough protein or iron and I was definitely feeling it by Friday. Anyway, we just planned a bunch of meals and snacks for the week and went on a big grocery shopping trip, so my nutrition will be much better this week. I’m also going to get my butt in gear and catch up with all that house work I’ve been neglecting for eternity. Not only will the productivity of keeping busy around the house make me feel more energized, having a tidy, comfortable space will make me feel more calm and centered.
I’m sorry you all had to endure this big ol’ whine-fest. I honestly wasn’t trying to be a Debbie Downer and I wasn’t trying to scare any future taper-ers, either. I really just wanted to be honest and give a slightly different perspective on the “taper madness.”
Perhaps I really do get the same ol’ taper crazies as everyone else; maybe I just cope with them differently. Regardless, if you’re reading this and you’ve ever felt like a weirdo because you don’t get the same taper crazies as everyone else, or get them at all (I didn’t get them during my first marathon), now you know you are not alone!!
Thanks for listening everyone.