My marathon is just 13 days away! To quote another blogger, “this sh1t got real!”, because honestly I can’t think of a better way to describe what those final weeks before the marathon feel like. During the months of intense training and mileage buildup, I was very well aware that I was in fact training for a marathon, yet all of my focus was on my training, and it somehow just seems like this beautiful and very abstract concept. This is my fourth time going through this, and it’s been the same every time; It’s not until I begin my taper that it REALLY hits me! In some ways it gets easier preparing for each successive marathon, because I know what to expect and how to make tweaks in my training/diet. In other ways it gets harder, because I know what to expect (Oh god, that wall! Why oh why do I keep doing this?!?!) and the tweaking is beginning to more closely resemble obsessive compulsive disorder and hoodoo superstitions. When the taper begins, and my training requires less focused energy, my focus has the tendency to turn towards self doubt. That self doubt and anxiety make it tempting to blow off the tapering plan, and continue to run high volumes to make sure I am as prepared as possible for this race. After all, do I really want to blow 5 months of hard training by “taking it easy” for 3 weeks, the 3 weeks of training when “sh1t gets real”?! Abs0-efing-loutely! This is where experience, and understanding the importance of “the taper” as part of an overall training plan, comes in.
What I am experiencing is not unique, it’s something that many runners, triathletes, and other endurance athletes go through when training for a major event. I’ve found a lot of articles that discuss this “distress” we all go through during the tapering process. I’ve seen it called the “taper blues”, “taper tantrums”, “taper traps”,….the list goes on. I personally like taper tantrums, because it is most adequately descriptive of my personal symptoms! Are you experiencing any of the below symptoms? If you are, you may have a case of “taper tantrums”!:
- Impulse to Cram: After completing that last 20 mile run, you felt like “I got this!” It’s more difficult to feel confident about your potential performance when “kicking back” a bit. You’ll begin to question yourself; did you train enough, get in enough miles, enough speed work…that’s when the college kid mentality kicks in…You know what I mean….when test anxiety had you pulling all nighters to “go over that list of anatomy terms just ONE more time!?!” And that strategy almost always backfired,right?! Because you ended up showing up for the test exhausted, stressed, and unable to focus. The same applies when preparing for a race! You did everything you can to prepare in the months leading up to your race; now give your body a physical and mental break so you can show up refreshed, focused, and ready to put your best foot forward!!
- Phantom Pains: You were running 40-50+ miles a week like an invincible beast! Now that you’re cutting back to more” human” mileage, everything is starting to hurt! “Ouch! My back, my knee, my foot…my knee and my foot!!” It’s not all in your head. You put your body through a lot during training, and now it is starting to repair itself, which causes minor aches and pains to flare up, perhaps some related to past injuries that never 100% healed. (For me I become more acutely aware of stiffness in my left knee and the mild pain caused by a small heel spur) Don’t panic, this is just your body going through the process of repairing itself. Do a little extra stretching (maybe even some yoga! :-)) and try rolling out those little aches and pains. If you held up through all the high mileage, odds are you’ll be just fine for your race!
- Fatigue/lack of energy: All of a sudden you are SO feel so tired and feel like you just want to nap all the time! It seems so bizarre to be more tired when running less, but again this is part of the restoration process. Get a little extra sleep in the weeks/days leading up to your race and spend as much time relaxing as possible.
- Carb Cravings: When you aren’t napping, all you want to do is stuff your face with as many high carbohydrate foods as possible! Pasta, bread, french fries, cake? Yes please!! These cravings are caused by your body wanting to replenish the carbohydrate stores you depleted during training, and AGAIN your body’s way of trying to recover. You do want gradually increase the carbohydrates in your diet, and want to effectively carb-load for a few days before the race. However, resist the temptation to overdo it! Too many carbohydrates will leave you feeling bloated and lethargic.
- Moodiness: All of a sudden everything in your life seems to be stressing you out more, and you feel cranky and irritable. If you’re like me, you may even have a few meltdowns. It’s no secret that running releases tons of endorphines, and you may actually be experiencing some endorphin withdrawal symptoms. (Yep, proof that running can actually be addictive! But at least it’s a healthy addiction! Lol) Also, anxiety about your upcoming race can be contributing to some of your “crabby pants” moods. Just try to relax! Avoid situations that cause unnecessary stress and do (non-running) activities that you find relaxing. Meditation, knitting, watching movies, get a massage…?
- “Itchy legs”/Ready to race: After that last long training run, you feel confident and on top of cloud 9; you are ready to race and you are ready to race now! Having to wait 3 weeks to compete in a race that’s required months of training can feel like down right torture! Your legs may even literally feel “twitchy” and “itchy”, ready to go! Don’t let your itchy legs get away from you, leading you to run hard/fast/long miles or convincing you to compete in an earlier race. Remember what your goal race is, and spend the last few weeks mentally preparing.
- Anxiety/Panic Attacks: Self doubt, fear, anxiety has you playing out every possible worst-case race day scenario in your head. You even have nightmares about oversleeping and missing the race (a common one for a lot of runners!), getting the trots, not being able to make it up that big hill at mile 9, hitting the wall, blowing out a knee, or having a “DNF”! You let those thoughts get you spun up, leading to serious anxiety, or even full blown panic attacks. Again, chill out and start doing things to feel centered and mentally prepared for your race. Make a checklist of items you need to pack for race day, study the course map, plan your carb-loading menu, and come up with a few realistic race day goals for yourself. Focusing on your race day plan/strategy will help you feel more in control, and minimize anxiety.
Here are some great articles on tapering strategies and tips to keep the “taper tantrums” in check:
My first week of tapering, Week 16 of training for Garden Spot Village Marathon:
- Wednesday-5 miles on treadmill (8:30 pace)
- Friday-Run 7.7 Davidsonville Park (8:18 pace)
- Saturday-Run 6.4 Russet Loop (9:24 overallpace, 8:50 moving pace, lots of waiting time at intersections!)
- Sunday-12 miles on the treadmill (8:30 pace, This required me playing a lot of mind tricks on myself!)
Total Weekly Miles-31.1 (75% training volume)
Total 2014 Miles-407.2
My “I just tricked myself into running 12 miles on a treadmill face!” There are not many thing in life that trump that in terms of boringness! Luckily that is my last long(ish) run before the marathon, so hopefully that will be the last time I have to do that for a while. *Fingers crossed* for warmer weather by the time I start training for the Northface Challenge!
Here are some fun, non-running things I did this week to keep my “taper tantrums” at bay:
- Helped my daughter prepare for her class video biography performance as Ellen Ochoa (1st Hispanic Female Astronaut):
- Had a “happy hour” with the girls at Union Jack’s in Columbia, MD:
- Oh, and we shared this “elephant ear” desert, Chocolaty Delicious Heaven!!:
Have you ever experienced taper tantrums? What tips/strategies do you have for coping?