So, the last long run is done. The hay - as they say - is in the barn. I have reached the point that most every marathoner loves and dreads: the taper. This is the time to allow one's body to recover from the strain of heavy training and high mileage. Where the aches and pains begin to heal up. Where the perpetual feeling of fatigue dissipates and energy returns. Where one begins to focus on (read, "obsess about") the actual race which has been the target all along.
We look forward to the taper because it means more rest. It means that our toughest workouts are behind us. It signifies that we have survived the tough part, and now get to coast towards the ostensible reward for all our hard work: race day. Yet we dread this period, as well. Why? Because it disrupts our routine. It makes us wonder whether we've done enough . . . or have we done too much? Are we fit enough or overtrained? Each new twinge may mean imminent catastrophe. We fear that we will get fat thanks to our now-slothful activity level (like going from 60+ to "only" 45 miles this week, for example).
And - for me, at least - this becomes a period of obsessive weather-checking.
Having recently realized that my least hot marathon (Keybank Vermont City in 2008) ended up in the high-70's late in the race, I realize that while I may have had many valid reasons to be hard on myself, I haven't gotten a fair shot at seeing what I can do on a marathon course in decent long-distance running weather. The consensus is that anything above 60 degrees means that a marathoner should expect to slow down. By most accounts, 45-50 degrees and overcast with little to no wind is ideal. The hotter it is, the harder the body has to work to keep cool, and the more difficult it becomes to remain adequately hydrated (or, more accurately stated, to remain "functionally dehydrated"). In light of all three of my marathons, I'm feeling a bit crampophobic, though I have not experienced cramps at any time during training, even during some recent warm weather runs. So, despite knowing that online 15-day weather forecasts aren't worth the paper they're printed on, I'm nonetheless checking www.accuweather.com at regular intervals, hoping for some good news. Problem is that this strategy is nothing more than a recipe for enhanced neurosis, since I know that a good forecast is bound to change, while a bad one is likely to hold. Yes, when it comes to race day weather, my cup of Gatorade is definitely half-empty.
Putting aside weather-related craziness, I will unequivocally say that I've never been better prepared for a marathon, and I have more than a mere chance to qualify for Boston this time. My mileage has been significantly higher than ever before. My recent race times have been personal bests, all in the midst of training (meaning I've run them on tired legs). I am - hallelujah! - injury-free at this moment (not counting minor aches and pains which are completely normal at this stage). With a little luck and some smart pacing, I should be able to see 3:1x:xx on the race clock as I approach the finish line in 13 days.
Last week was the first week of this cycle where I did not officially make my mileage goal. Life got in the way, but since I'd planned it as a "swing" week anyway, meaning it may or may not have been a taper week, it really did not matter. Here's how it played out:
- Monday - Usual cross-training, circuit, core & stretching
- Tuesday - Cursed Day #1; supposed to do about 10 miles with 2x15 minutes at half-marathon pace (HMP); had to skip the run to the track (because my daughter's bike's been "borrowed", forcing us to drive); it was close to 90 degrees when we started, then a major storm system moved through, dropping temps to around 80, with wind gusts of up to 40 mph; then, in the worst development of the day, my trusty Garmin Forerunner 305 just died in the middle of the workout; I estimate I got in a total of about 8 miles, with 15 minutes and then maybe 8 minutes at HMP
- Wednesday - Bought a Garmin Forerunner 405 in the morning; did 10 miles easy at lunchtime, including 6 1-mile laps around the lake at a local park
- Thursday - 7 miles a little harder than easy; good pace and nice, low HR
- Friday - Cursed Day #2; work turned crushing, and I squeezed in a 45-minute treadmill run, instead of the 10-miler with goal marathon pace miles thrown-in; need to calibrate the foot pod to the new Garmin, since I apparently ran a new 10K PR; According to the watch, I somehow managed low-6:00 pace despite keeping the TM at 2.5-3.5% incline; I'll call it a GMP/Tempo/WTF run
- Saturday - 7.5 miles on the trails, including some hill sprints and surges; 3-mile hike with the family later that afternoon (which gives me 60+ if I count it, but I won't)
- Sunday - 18.4 miles, with about 14 at GMP+30-40 secs (8:00-8:10/mile pace), but which turned out to be a bit faster since I'm still adjusting to what appears to be inaccurate instant pace readings on the new Garmin; overall pace was about 8:08/mile, and my average HR was around 150-ish, which is a very encouraging sign
It was very exciting and motivating to read about many of the RWOL forumites marathon performances this past weekend. There were tales of great personal successes; at least one tragedy (a runner who'd been training for the Pittsburgh Marathon who was killed by a car last week); incredible Masters' performances; runners needing medical attention. It certainly got the race juices flowing, as if they needed any help.
Taper Week #1
This week should end up like this:
- Monday - XT as usual
- Tuesday - "Ladder" intervals at the track; 8+ miles total
- Wednesday - 6 miles easy
- Thursday - 6 miles easy
- Friday - 8 miles, with 2x3 miles at GMP and a 5-minute active recovery
- Saturday - 5 miles easy
- Sunday - 13 miles, with maybe the final 3 or so at GMP
Week's total = 46 miles
It's a testament to my preparation that this feels like a very easy week. Not sure how I'll handle only running 22 or so miles in the 6 days before the race. Speaking of the race, I may put up a separate post on this, but I will confess to my virtual friends that my feelings are hurt thanks to my family's decision to forgo coming to Sugarloaf with me. They've decided instead to go see my in-laws and their new puppy. I've mostly kept quiet, as part of me is a bit relieved to be able to have some quiet time to prepare and reflect. However, given how much I've put into this, I would have liked my family to be there to share my joy (I hope) when I cross the finish line. What's a guy to do?
Thanks for reading, and for your supportive comments along the way.