My (otherwise excellent) Advanced Marathoning training book gives this advice for taper week: “If at all possible, during the last week before the marathon, reduce not just your training but also the amount of stress in your life.” It goes on to recommend, “Avoid having major deadlines at work or other energy-draining undertakings.” Ha. In what world? Though, I have to wonder if the fact that we are at the crux of an almost year-long project of epic proportion is hurting me during this taper week, or helping to refocus my madness away from the taper.
In any case, for those not familiar with the taper, it’s a three-week (or so) period when a marathoner wraps up 18-weeks (or so) of training by decreasing mileage each week before a race. This process allows the body to heal and recover from the training, and can actually increase overall performance considerably. In my schedule this meant going from about 55 miles per week to 45, then 32, then 20 pre-race miles during four, short runs this last week. This decrease in mileage can be, for some, like drug withdrawal – the runner is used to the endorphins, stress relief, and constant, pleasant fatigue of the hard training schedule, and this prolonged decrease in mileage leads many runners to restlessness, anxiety, rapid swings in race outlook from despair to optimism (I’m going to crash and burn; bring it on!), worry about loss of fitness, worry about weight gain, and a host of other reported symptoms.
For me, the taper madness evidences itself most strongly in restless sleep and insomnia, stress and anxiety, heightened sensitivity to every tweak in my legs (mild aches that I would have run through on a mid-training-cycle long run now concern me deeply), and paranoia about getting sick. Which is being fed by the fact that the whole household has mild colds, runny noses, the whole bit. Oh, and it’s flu season and our grocery store has huge H1N1 display rack with Germ-X and surgical masks right next to the organic produce when you walk in.
For the part of this madness that’s physical (the running withdrawal), I’m not sure there’s much of a cure. You’ve gotta do the rest. For the part that’s psychological, there’s always remembering that, at least for me, the 18-weeks of training that led up to this Sunday’s race were the real prize. So whether I run well or poorly there, or whether the sun shines or it rains and the wind blows (which is what the weather forecasts predict), it’s all good. So you can remember that. But I’m not sure even that helps. It seems to ease up after midweek. And likely the best fix for it? Running 26.2 miles as fast as you can. Cap that off with a couple of cocktails and the biggest cheeseburger in the world. Cured.