When I started writing this post, I tried to come up with a catchy title for about a minute before it occurred to me that you can’t sugar coat a bad habit. It is what it is. At the karate school I use to teach at, we would say “Good habits are hard to make but easy to live with; bad habits are easy to make but hard to live with.” That’s a bit too long for a title, but I think it serves as a great lead in to this important topic.
Some bad habits are known to you, others might be things you have never thought of but do anyway, some are things you are neglecting to do, but they all have one thing in common: they make you slower.
This blog post is nearly two years old, but I thought I would republish it for some friends who are racing this coming weekend. Sometimes taper is the hardest part of training. I managed a 21 minute marathon PR after this particular piece was written.
Runners do this thing called “taper” in the weeks leading up to goal endurance race. Tapering is essentially a decrease in weekly miles run that allows for repair of muscles, storage of extra glycogen, and amply recovery before race day. It has been shown to increase performance somewhere between 2-8%, depending on how the tapering is done. The most effective tapering plans take into account a runners peak mileage, the length of the race, and the runner’s experience and goals. Plans that decrease intensity along with mileage have been shown to be far less effective than those that decrease mileage but maintain intensity.
But, all that said, that is not really what this post is about.
This post is about Taper Madness. It’s about what happens to your brain on taper.
A friend of mine recently commented that “You make time for what you want to make time for,” and I could not agree more. One of the first posts I ever wrote for this blog was about time management. Two years later, the things I wrote in that post still ring true. In fact, now that I am in nursing school full time, it is even more important for me to make time for the things that matter. People still ask me, at least once a day it feels like, how I “make time” for everything that I do: marathon training, schoolwork, family, housekeeping, and friends.
Have you ever let these thoughts creep into your head during a run? They worm their way in and try to convince you to shave off a little distance from your goal, trying to convince you that “this far is enough.”
It’s almost like being back in college. The idea of skipping class occurs to you…maybe when you wake up in the middle of the night and class is at 9:30AM. I could just skip. And there it is, that thought, and now it’s like you have no choice! You are simply doomed to skip class.
I learned that I need to fight these thoughts when it comes to running.
My last marathon ended in DNF. When I signed up for the City of Oaks Marathon, I wanted one thing: redemption. I could have picked a flat course or course with more aid stations and less greenway running or maybe even one with huge crowds throughout the 26.2 miles. But I chose the City of Oaks Marathon with all of its 1275ft of elevation gain, 10 miles of greenway running, and some lonely stretches.
And the challenge made the redemption all the sweeter.
In part one of this series, you can read about my decision to make changes in my life and running, following Matt Fitzgerald’s 6 step plan from his book Racing Weight. In this post, I will go more in depth to the biggest change we had to make in order to get leaner, lighter, and faster: switching over to a higher quality diet.
Fitzgerald advocates not for a fad diet or for a runner to go paleo, vegan, or whatever; instead, he simply tells you to eat more high quality foods and less low quality ones. He ranks food groups according to their quality and assigns each serving a number of points. Your goal is to end the day with as high of a score as you can. So, indulging in my kids’ Cheese-It lunch snacks will dock me 2 points while grabbing a peach and having that instead will gain me 2 points.
Perhaps it is the competitive side of me, but this method was highly appealing and has helped me lose 10 pounds and 4% of my body fat.
If you bonk in a 10k, miss your PR in a 5k, or simply just have a bad race in a short or middle distance run, the fix can be as simple as waiting a week and trying again. It’s cheap, easy and you don’t need to recover too much from these distances. If you DNF a marathon at mile 23 like I did, you are left holding the shattered remains of 4 months of hard training and dedication, and your body will likely not be ready for another go at the marathon distance for weeks or even months.
In short, you get a lot of time to think about the mistakes you made.
But, for me, it also gave me the motivation to seek change. What can I change? What do I have no control over? If there is a Serenity Prayer for Runners, I found it in Matt Fitzgerald’s book Racing Weight. And I made the decision to change the things that I can change and accept the things that are beyond my control.
That was a comment I got once while on a group run when I happened to get into my “book worm” mode and started talking about the changes I have seen in my running since reading Greg McMillan’s YOU (Only Faster).
That’s me, and it always has been. I love reading, and my running obsession has combined with this love of the written word. There are many fabulous books about running, whether they are more “How to” in nature, stories of personal journeys, or in depth training and nutrition guides. I have gained invaluable knowledge from reading about this sport, and I encourage others to do so as well.
Here is a list of some of my favorite running literature: