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.
Lucky for you, I don’t have any pictures of the blister that I battled for nearly 3 weeks, but, as you can gather from the 3 month-aftermath photo, this was a blister for the ages, and I learned a lot about blister protection and healing while dealing with it.
This particular blister, like most of the ones runners get on their feet, was caused by friction between the back of my heel, sock and heel back of my shoe. I simply didn’t have my shoe tied well enough while doing a long run on a pretty hot and humid day. The result was, after that first run, just a small, single pocketed blister directly on the back of my heel.
Common wisdom is to leave the blister intact and let it heal; the liquid inside the blister is protective and will be absorbed once there is new skin. However, as I discovered, a blister on the heel will be extremely painful if left alone because of the pressure from the sock and shoe. If you plan on continuing to run, leaving the blister intact may be impossible.
The weather really fluctuates during final months of fall season training into winter and then emerging out into spring again. Living in North Carolina, you often need to have clothes for runs that drop into the low 20s and below and then, the very next week, find yourself searching for gear that will be suitable for 35-50 degrees.
Here are my top picks for these unpredictable running seasons!
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.
North Carolina’s pedestrian awareness campaign, Watch For Me NC, aims to raise awareness of bicyclists and pedestrians on roads and in crosswalks all over the state. They have signs up on major roads, coverings on gas pump handles, bumper stickers on cars, and flags outside parks. I hope this campaign is doing some good because this is an issue that North Carolinians desperately need to be aware of. Here in Wake County, we often boast of the miles of greenway, acres of park land, and abundance of bicycle lanes and trails as a major draw to our area.
Yet, while we love our open spaces, we have a serious problem when it comes to watching out for people accessing and enjoying these greenways, parks and trails via walking, running and bicycling. We drivers need to start looking right a lot more and stopping at the line before our turns.
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:
I have 4 kids; and, in this day and age, that means a lot of standardized tests. Over the years, I have come to realize that many of the questions on these tests are all about “learning to take a test.” You know the ones I am talking about: “All of the above are true except,” and “A, B and C but not D,” or “none of the above except.” You simply have to learn to do questions like this. You may understand all the material, you may be able to talk about main ideas and solve all the problems, but you have to learn to handle the structure of these questions.
Racing is a lot like that. You have to learn to race. You may be fast, have great form, be full of dedication, and all those things you need to get to the finish line, but if you don’t learn to race, you will never get to the line first.