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  • Writer's pictureJessica Jones

The Taper.

So, what is a taper? It’s the period of training immediately before a target race. During the taper, you decrease mileage to allow the body to more fully repair. Recover. Be prepared for the beating of race day. Some use ‘dreaded’ to describe the taper. Others talk about ‘taper madness’. There are reasons for this. Legitimate reasons. The science geek in me is fascinated by the physiology and psychology of it. The runner in me is just as irritable, hangry, and restless as every other runner during a taper. Longing to spend more time with my running shoes...

There are many ways to approach a taper. Different lengths of time. Variations in intensity. Generally, my marathon taper is three weeks. Because I’ve had some mileage ups and downs, I’m doing a two week taper. I am in the school of ‘decrease mileage, not intensity’. For the most part. I drop one of my weekly Quality runs (see “Let’s Talk About Running”). And, many of my Easy runs slow to Recovery pace. Or, go easy by feel. The final taper week, I skip my stability/strength workouts. Minimize damage. Maximize recovery time. The taper is when I allow myself the most flexibility to listen to my body. Twinges or aches I may push through earlier in a training cycle will slow or stop me during the taper.

For this taper, my weekly mileage from went from 75 last week to 57 this week, and a planned drop to 30 the upcoming week. This mileage decrease is a big deal. A 60% decrease over two weeks. Sounds like a great time to be able to kick back. Relax. Enjoy the free time, right? In reality, that is not how most runners view it. It takes you out of your routine. It takes away my meditation/problem-solving time of long runs. A friend once asked me (likely in response to a snarky comment), “Did you run this morning?” Me: “No”. Friend: “You need to go run until your attitude changes”. Fair point. I find myself impatient or frustrated with something. Or nothing. Life. A particular situation. I go for a run. By the time I’m done, it’s all good. Problems can be solved on long runs. Or, at least, perspective gained. Attitudes adjusted. No time for this during the taper. Need to rest the legs. The body. Recover.

Add to that, the lack of eating. I get hangry. (Side note: hangry is apparently a real word now as spellcheck is okay with it). When I talked about nutrition last week, I’m not sure I emphasized how much I like food. A lot. I’m considering becoming a serious ultrarunner, just so I can eat all the time. Kidding. Sort of. During the taper, fewer miles = fewer calories burned = less I can eat = less pleasant me. You’d think the less you burn, the less hungry you’d be. But, it’s like my body doesn’t trust that I’m not going out for 10 more miles later. Must eat. All. The. Food. Just in case. This is also a really bad time for junk food cravings. I want sugar. It is a true test of resolve. So, needless to say, the taper is a tough time. Not physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Fewer happy endorphins. Less comfort eating. It can turn the nicest of us a little cranky. That’s when I try to keep my eye on the prize, so to speak.

Eight days until the 122nd Boston Marathon. The 4th consecutive Boston Marathon that I’ve had the privilege to run. No, the right. I earned the right. Blood, sweat, and tears. Okay, maybe not blood (unless you count the time I got bit by a feral kitten during a run, but I digress). Definitely sweat. And tears. Training for a marathon is a journey. It’s not a journey that I’ve found to get easier over time. Just different. This will be my 23rd marathon. Training for each and every one required a dedication and focus that few other “hobbies” do. But the reward. Crossing that finish line. No matter how terrible you felt. No matter how much you struggled. For the weeks, months, of training. For the past few hours of racing. Once you cross the finish line, it is all worth it. I am a marathoner. Forever. Each and every time, a sense of accomplishment. Earned membership into an elite club. Crossing the finish line on Boylston Street is all that, amplified. Each race is different, as is each training cycle. Filled with unique challenges. Highs and lows. Taper is a time to really reflect. I think about what I’ve done. Lessons learned. Focus that restless energy. Am I prepared? Review my training logs. Trust the training. What is left? At this point, little can be done in training to help a race. Much can be done to mess it up. I try to focus on the peripheral things. Plan meet-ups with friends. Make a list for packing. (I may or may not have already started packing). Double-, triple-check travel schedule. Plan the celebration. What can we do in Boston to enjoy the culmination of all this work? I have some time to figure it out!

Training Log April 2-8, 2018: Planned, 50-60 miles (I usually have a range during taper to allow me to adjust by feel). 56.6 miles for the week.

Paces: R (recovery) = 9:09 or slower; E (easy) = 8:08-8:36; S (steady) = 7:30-7:50, M (marathon pace) = 7:15; T (threshold) = 6:58, WU/CD (warm up/cool down) = easy by feel

Monday – planned: 8R

5.2mi @ 9:21. Some irritation in the hamstring still. Otherwise, felt good. Smooth.

Tuesday – planned: 2E, 6M, 2E and stability session

4.5mi @ 8:35. Skipped the speed and stability to let the hamstring recover. Felt okay. Pace seemed to be a little more effort than expected.

Wednesday – planned: 4E

8.1mi @ 8:05. Moved the planned S-run for tomorrow here to give two easy days before the next Quality run. Hamstring barely noticeable. Overall, okay. Mile splits: 2E, 9:11, 8:27; 4S, 7:55, 7:45, 7:33, 7:32; 2E, 8:07, 8:05.

Stability (make up from Tues): 2 sets of: 10 leg swings (front and side, each leg), 10 clock lunges (front, side, back, each leg), 6 pistol squats, 20 mountain climbers, 2x20sec superman.

Thursday – planned: 2E, 3S, 2E and stability

5.3mi @ 8:59. Easy by feel. Felt good.

Stability: 2 sets of: 10 leg swings, 10 single leg deadlift (5lb dumbbells), 10 squats with side leg raise (5lb dumbbells), 10 standing hurdlers (forward and reverse, each leg), and 20 alternating arm/leg plank lifts.

Friday – planned: 7E

7.6mi @ 8:40. All good. Easy by feel. Slight hammy recurrence in last mile.

Saturday – planned: 2WU, 3x2T w/2min rest, 8CD and upper/core strength

16.0mi @ 8:45 on treadmill. Thunderstorms, so on the ‘mill. 3WU, 2@6:59, 0.25 rest, 2@6:59, 0.25 rest, 2@6:54, 0.25 rest, balance of mileage CD. Felt good all the way.

Upper/core: 12 alternating lung curls (5lb dumbbells), 12 squats with shoulder press (5lb dumbbells), 2x30sec each side plank, 10 push-ups, 10 tricep push-ups (on knees), 30 side bends (5lb dumbbells).

Sunday – planned: 10E

9.9mi @ 8:59. Felt comfortable. Cool, overcast, and windy. Just like it may be in Boston!

Until next week.

Own it, live it, be it.

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