Archive for February 1, 2011

I’m sure you can remember the scene.

Forrest and Bubba have just met Lieutenant Dan at Fort Platoon.

After some small talk about being from Alabama and learning about the importance of changing their socks every time the soldiers stop on a hike, Lieutenant Dan shares the following pearl of wisdom:

“Two standing orders in this platoon.  One.  Take good care of your feet.  Two, try not to do anything stupid.  Like getting yourself killed.”

To which Forrest replies:

“I sure hope I don’t let him down.”

A marathoner is pretty fanatical about taking care of their feet.  So that one to me is really a no-brainer.

But the second standing order is one that I am going to take very, very seriously over the next 18 days and 20 hours and change leading up to the start of the Austin Marathon as of this morning.

After 83 Training runs covering 758 miles, two 5K’s, one 10K, one 10-Mile Race and two half-marathons every last one of them a PR at that distance, I have made it through to the other side.

All that stands between me and race day is the three-week taper.

After this mornings easy 6.2 mile run in some not so “easy” weather battling cold temperatures, rain, 20+ mph winds, I have exactly 95.80 miles left to run.  Less than 100 miles before I come through the chute in Austin with what I hope will be my best ever Marathon time.

The taper is an interesting period for a distance runner.  The principle is pretty straightforward.

To peak for your “A” race, the runner will gradually start dialing back their weekly mileage leading up to race day.  This will allow any of the aches, bumps and bruises that have accumulated during the training cycle to heal, as well as rejuvenate those leg muscles that have been broken down during training.

Any “loss” in fitness by reducing your training during this period is vastly overcompensated by gains in returning to full health.

No mile that I have run since this training cycle started on October 4th will feel as smooth, easy and powerful as the first mile leading out onto the Austin Marathon course.  I will be primed and ready to rock and roll at 7:00 a.m. on February 20th.

Sounds great right?

Well, the physical benefits of the taper come at some physical and emotional costs.  There is no such thing as a free-lunch when it comes to the marathon. 

Every inch gained is an inch you have to fight over, under, around or through something to get there.

Physically some strange things start to happen.  During the first week of the taper I will cut my mileage from its peak of approximately 60 miles to about 75% or just 40 miles.  The following week I will cut that mileage down another 25% to about 30 miles, just 50% of what we were running at our peak.

During race week, an even greater reduction with a short 3 mile run on Tuesday, 4 easy miles on Wednesday and a 2 mile shakeout the morning before the marathon.

While your workload is reduced your body is working hard to repair all of the small micro-tears that your muscles have experienced during training.  This causes some odd “feelings” to occur.  Marathoners will refer to these as phantom pains, they are little aches, jabs and sometimes sharp pains that may strike a calf muscle, an ankle or a knee.

The first time you experience these pains they can really shake your confidence. 

“How can I possibly be getting an injury now?  I only have X Days to race day!”

The good news is of course that you are not injured.  It is just your body healing itself.

Which leads to the second challenge of the taper, the mental tricks that begin to occur.

Doubt.  Perhaps the single worst thing a marathoner can have prior to race day.

“Did I train hard enough?”

“Could I have done more?”

“Maybe I should just go out and run one more really long run, just to prove to myself that I am ready ….”

No, no, no, no, NO!

There is absolutely nothing that can be gained at this point.  All of the hard work has already been put in.  It is simply time to let the body heal and load up for race day.

But as you decrease the amount of running that you are doing, the endorphins that have become such a daily source of energy and confidence are decreasing as well.

You begin to feel like you are not in the shape you were just two weeks ago.  You may even be gaining a bit of weight as you reduce your running miles, so eating smart becomes important to maintain your race weight.

Stress starts to build and doubt creeps in.  It happens to everyone.

But this time I know that I have trained well.

I know that with the exception of those two miles I had to drop two Sunday’s ago while I battled through 18 miles with the stomach flu, I ran ever single workout on the schedule.  I did not miss a single day.  Not a single workout.  In fact I tacked on a mile here and a mile there to my runs and even ran my first 22 miler as part of my marathon training.

I’m as ready as I am going to be.  So these next three weeks I will let the magical healing powers of the taper do their thing.  I will run the remaining 12 workouts as they were written more than 20 weeks ago.

No more, no less.

And most importantly, I’m going to try my best not to do anything stupid and get ready to run a great, great race in Dom’s memory.

I sure hope I don’t let him down.