Dear Family and Friends of Rogue Marathoners:
You are entering a very tricky period in your marathoner's training. They have trained hard through the fall and into the winter in preparation for the Big Day. The hard work is behind, and TAPER MADNESS is ahead.
Marathon training is a stair-step process where muscles break down for several weeks and then recover in an easier week. Finally, three weeks before the marathon, runners complete their final long run, and it’s time for recovery. The last three weeks are a period of descending running mileage, allowing the body to more fully recover and rest in preparation for the Big Day, it 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 somewhat addicted to these emotions and considers them normal.
The tapering marathoner will be irritable, anxious, nervous, overly emotional, short-tempered, restless, tired, cranky, and maybe depressed. It sounds like a great three weeks, doesn’t it? It is not unlike an addict going through withdrawal. This is a span of time where most Marathoners go a bit crazy. For most, it passes after the marathon event. Of course, there are the post-marathon blues, but that’s a subject for another day.
The first week is not too bad. It’s really like most recovery weeks. Recovery is critical and the mileage is not dropping by a large amount. 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 hamstrings, inflamed IT bands, tweaked achilles, plantar fascitis, black toenails, bloody nipples, and chafing all arise as complaints, and this is just during breakfast.
The second week starts deeper depression. The tapering marathoner starts to really miss running. There are no more double-digit runs before the marathon for most. The longest run for the next two weeks will be 7 – 8 miles. 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, and they will tell you they are getting slower every day! This is not happening, but the feelings are real. Physiologically, there are nothing but positive results from a three-week taper prior to running a marathon. However, it feels quite the opposite. This restlessness often becomes frustration and a short-tempered athlete. Understand that this frustration will project at anyone and everyone within reach. It’s nothing personal; it’s the lack of mileage talking.
It’s now seven days before The Marathon. The last 7 - 8 mile run is done, and all that’s left are three 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.” These are some of the things going through the mind of a marathoner in their last few days, not to mention the nervous energy, the couple of extra pounds after cutting back on the running for three weeks, or the trips to the bathroom that increase 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 night's 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.