Monday, October 31, 2011

Taper Madness

Instructions for the Tapering Marathoner:  Print this letter, make a few copies of it and keep them with you at all times.  Hand one to your spouse, your partner, your neighbor, the other mom at the bus stop, the guy who sits next to you in Biology Class, the person who makes your coffee at Starbucks,... anyone, really, who is unfortunate enough to come into contact with you over the next few weeks.  

A letter to the support team
borrowed with permission from Q

As the support team for a Marathoner you are entering a very tricky period.  Your Marathoner has been training hard through the summer and into the fall in preparation for the big day.  The hard work is done and TAPER MADNESS is ahead.
Marathon training is a stair-step type process where muscles are broken down for several weeks and then an easier week is thrown in for recovery.  Finally three weeks before the Marathon, one last long run is completed and it’s time for recovery.  The last three weeks are a period of descending running mileage.  This period allows the body to fully recover from the training and rest in preparation for the Big Day, this period is called the Taper.
This all sounds well and good, however, the Taper is a period of great anxiety for many Marathoners (first-timers and veterans alike).  Over the course of training for a Marathon, an athlete becomes accustomed to running many miles each week and constantly feeling the rush of endorphin driven highs and the persistent fatigue and soreness of effort.  The athlete becomes addicted to these emotions and craves both the highs and lows.
The Tapering Marathoner will be irritable, anxious, nervous, overly emotional, short-tempered, restless, tired, cranky, and depressed (even more than normal).  Sounds like a great three weeks doesn’t it?  It is not unlike the heroin addict going cold turkey.  This is a span of time where most Marathoners go a bit crazy.  For most it passes after Marathon day.  Of course there are the post-marathon blues, but that’s the subject for another day.
The first week is not too bad.  It’s really like most “easy weeks” following a twenty mile run.  Recovery is critical and the mileage is not dropping by a large amount.  They are so tired from the 50 mile week that the rest and recovery is welcomed.  Do yourself a favor, block  HYPERLINK "" and  HYPERLINK "" from your internet service, unless you enjoy continuous updates of the weather forecast for 18 days in the future.  Nerves may begin to fray but the best is yet to come – trust me!
During the first part of Taper Madness you will hear about every small ache and pain and how it may be a broken leg or torn ligament or some other traumatic injury.  Every twinge becomes a reason to think about postponing the marathon effort.  Every sneeze, sniffle, cough or pimple becomes a life-threatening virus or infection.  Tight hammies, inflamed ITB, tweaked Achilles, plantar fascitis, black toenails, bloody nipples, chafing, and this is just during breakfast.  
The second week starts the deep depression.  The tapering Marathoner starts to really miss running.  There are no more double-digit runs before the marathon.  The longest run for the next two weeks will be 8 miles.  Just 8 miles, how many used “just” and “8 miles” in the same sentence prior to training for the marathon.    The body is really starting to recover and therefore has more energy than needed.  Therefore, the Marathoner becomes restless.  No “extra” running is allowed.  The tapering Marathoner can feel the fitness draining out of their body.  Ask them, they will tell you, they are getting slower every day!  This is not happening but the feelings are real.  Physiologically, there is nothing but positives from a 3 week taper prior to running a marathon, however, it feels quite the opposite.  This restlessness often becomes frustration and a very short-tempered athlete.  Understand that this frustration will be projected at anyone and everyone within reach.  It’s nothing personal; it’s the lack of mileage talking.
So it’s now six or seven days before the Marathon.  The last 8 mile run is done and all that’s left is 3 easy short runs and the BIG EVENT.  For the first time Marathoner and some experienced folk, this week is nothing but self-doubt and worry.  “I’ll never make it.  My foot hurts.  My nose is running.  I’m not ready.  My last 20 miler sucked, I’ll die out there.  I’m getting fat and slow.  My shoes are dead, my shoes are too small, my shoes are too big, My legs are different lengths, my head hurts, I have a splinter, I have a hang nail, I hate running.” These are some of the things going through the mind of a Marathoner in their last few days before the Marathon.  Not to mention the nervous energy that is overflowing.  Not to mention that there may be a couple of extra pounds after cutting back on the running for 3 weeks.  Not to mention that the trips to the bathroom are increasing geometrically as the hydration dance starts in earnest.  Many find concentrating on anything other than the upcoming race difficult.  By the way, Marathoners in the final days before a race often make poor babysitters.
Two nights before the marathon are critical to the marathoner.  This night is probably the last chance for a good nights sleep.  The night before is typically restless and worrisome (what if the alarm doesn’t go off).  A sleepless night preceding a marathon will not have a dramatic impact on chances for success.  Adrenaline will offset missing that night’s sleep and get the Marathoner through the race.  The morning of the marathon is all about getting some food, using the bathroom and getting to the race.  My suggestion, don’t get in the way.
I am sure your marathoner appreciates all the support they have received during the training program.  The last few weeks are critical to a successful marathon effort.  Please understand that the emotional wreck will disappear after the marathon.  The Taper can be especially difficult and frustrating for everyone.  The good news, it ends with the race.
I hope this sheds some light on TAPER MADNESS.  Sometimes insight makes things a bit easier to understand.  Of course, your experience may differ greatly but I’ll bet it doesn’t.


James said...

good post

Jen said...


Shellyrm ~ just a country runner said...

Even with a letter, I don't think my family "gets it."

Jenny said...

I am so stealing this! Gotta warn everyone! Thanks!!!!