Taper Time: Two Weeks You Love To Hate

Have you hugged your tapering marathoner today? It's taper time over here - just 10 days to go until it's time to unleash the 1400+ miles of training on the Erie Marathon course.  I'm working this week to hold on to my sanity and convince myself that my fitness has not suddenly evaporated overnight and that yes, the hard work has been done, the hay is in the barn, etc. etc., and that there is nothing else I can do besides relax and try not to freak out.   (key word:  TRY)

These two weeks always remind me just rough the taper can be on a marathoner's psyche.  It's the feeling of being somewhat helpless while you wait and wait to finally get your chance to line up and just RUN the darn thing.  Sure, there are things you need to do this week to stay on track, to maximize your nutrition, to make sure you are physically and mentally ready for race day.  But on the whole, the theme of these last two weeks is:  DON'T SCREW IT UP BY DOING TOO MUCH.

So I'm doing my best to relax and silence the voices in my head that say "Hey, all this extra non-running time would be a GREAT time to clean the attic...or go on a house-project spree and finally install those shelves/paint/organize....or head to Lowe's and exhaust yourself by lifting 35 bags of mulch and carting them around the entire yard!! YES!!!!"

As you have probably guessed, I don't do "rest" very well.   This week has also marked the emergence of my tendencies to over-research and second guess myself.  Stick with my normal 3-day carb load w/no depletion phase?  Try a 10-day "fat load" and THEN carb load?  Cut out caffeine?  Keep caffeine in and just load up on race day?  You can see where this is going.

So in an effort to silence my own thoughts and commit to a plan, I present to you:

The FoxRunsFast Non-Crazy Taper Plan

  1.  Nutrition:  I'll continue to eat pretty normally this week, while focusing on (slightly) decreasing calories as I run less and rest more.  I'll also skew my diet towards the protein side this week to help with muscle recovery and repair.   On Saturday, I'll have my last caffeinated tea or coffee and start my week-long caffeine fast.  (Apologies in advance to everyone who comes in contact with me during that last week of taper.)  With three days to go I'll start the carb load phase, aiming to get 65%+ of my calories from carbs in the final days.
  2. Mental prep:  I've got a mental visualization CD that a sports psychologist made for me a few years ago.  I've used that in each of my past marathon buildups in the final two weeks and I'll listen to that again this time.  I'll also re-read some key passages from Sage Rountree's "Racing Wisely" and work on some mantras to use on race day.   I'll spend some time thinking about possible race-day obstacles (and how to overcome them) and then work on getting my pace chart and race plan ready.
  3. Strength training:  I talked about the optimal time to discontinue strength training before a marathon and I'll try to take my own advice.  Unfortunately I can't stop as early as I'd like due to teaching commitments (I'm teaching Thursday, Friday and Sunday this week), but I'll be using very light weights starting Friday, and Sunday will be my last day of any extra gym work before the race.
  4. Running:  Finally, I'll be cutting back mileage and resting more.  I will run my last "speed" workout tomorrow (3x1 mile) and will have one more workout next week (2 miles at marathon pace).   All that's left is easy, shorter runs and a rest day.

Goodbye, plank work - see you in a few weeks!

Since I don't do rest very well, I'd welcome any and all suggestions for (non-energy-expending) ways to combat taper madness!!  Whatcha got?  



Hold the Vision, Trust the Process

Focus_QuoteT-minus 5 weeks to go until Erie, folks!   I'm still standing, albeit on very, very tired legs.  We've gotten to the part of marathon training where I feel like I have to start tapping into all of the mental reserves I can muster.  Though I am mighty sick of the 4:30am alarm setting and the suffocating heat and humidity that seems to follow me on every run, I am extremely grateful to still be healthy and running.  I can feel myself getting closer to my goals - now I just need to hang on and put in a few more weeks of hard work. The marathon is a strange beast.  To truly race it well, to run it while pushing up against the very limits of your current fitness, requires laser-like focus.   Not only focus on race day, but constant focus over the course of the season to keep yourself on track.  It's not the hard workouts, early alarms, or higher mileage that proves to be my nemesis, but the sheer mental effort required to maintain this level of focus throughout the season.  THAT'S one of the reasons why marathoning is so challenging.

I've hit up against this issue of maintaining focus in a couple of ways this past week.

1)  Focus within a workout:  This Thursday I had 5x1200 on the schedule.  I managed to talk a speedy friend of mine into running them with me and at 5am we made our way over the the track in the dark.  I was dreading this workout - DREADING IT.  I knew I'd be running on tired legs from teaching BodyPump the night before and I just...wasn't feeling it.  I had dead legs on the warmup over to the track and my mind quickly searched for excuses not to complete the workout.  But I talked myself into (in part thanks to not wanting to look like a wimp in front of my friend), and started the intervals.  On each one, I found I had to really work to maintain focus to keep up the pace.  The middle lap was the worst - I'd start out fast on the first lap, then my brain would want to mentally check out on the second.  The toughest part of the workout was really having to work to maintain my turnover and intensity on that second lap - and even then it was still my slowest lap for each interval.   It was great practice for being aware of the mental work that was required and not giving up.  With each rep I practiced being focused on each lap and staying committed to the workout.  I'll need that focus on race day when I have the tendency to "check out" in the middle-to-late miles of the race when things start to hurt and yet the finish line is still so, so far away.  At Tobacco Road my pace tanked by a full minute when I stopped paying attention - I will not let that happen at Erie, and these kind of workouts are great practice.

2)  Focus on the schedule: The second area that can be difficult to maintain focus is on the marathoning schedule as a whole.  It's all too easy for me to get overwhelmed with how many weeks I have left to go when instead I need to be focusing on nothing but the current week that I'm in.  Taking it day by day and workout by workout can help prevent that overwhelming feeling of "will I ever reach the end of this?".  I know this, and yet I often struggle to stay focused on the day's run and purpose of that run.

3)  Focus on the peripherals: (diet, PT exercises, core work, sleep, etc.)  I must admit: This is the first area where I'm likely to lose focus.  It's all too easy for me to slack off on the core work or the healthy eating when other things (my young daughters, errands, housework, distractions like Facebook...) are clamoring for my attention.  But I know that if I don't maintain focus on doing these things (eating right, getting enough sleep, keeping up with my core work and PT exercises) I'll pay for it down the road.   I've been writing myself little post-it notes around my house to remind me to maintain my focus on these things.  Only 5 more weeks to go, right?  I can do it.

But the one thing - the most important thing - I've been trying very hard to keep in mind, is a focus on the big picture.

Getting to that starting line healthy with a season of hard work behind me, will give me the best shot at running that sub-3.  And for the next 5 weeks, I will do all I can to remained focused on that big picture. This means listening to my body, praying daily to stay healthy, trusting the process and the plan, holding on to the vision of sub-3 and maintaining as much focus as I can muster.  I can do it.  I WILL do it.   I'm coming for you, Erie.




The Rest is (not always) Easy

It's a rest week:  This happened.  Greetings from sweltering RVA - where the "feels like" temperature topped triple digits this weekend!  (Whew) It's made for some super sweaty runs, that's for sure.  But enough about the weather - let's get to the training.

This week was a recovery week for me.  When crafting my schedule I had slotted this week to fall 9 weeks out from Erie.  Like any recovery week, its goal was to give my body some time to absorb the last few weeks of hard training (70, 79, 86 miles each week, respectively), and to recharge my batteries a bit before plunging into the last big block of work before taper.   I had been eagerly anticipating the arrival of this week:  I'd sleep in!!  I wouldn't have to do any doubles!!  I had a "short" long run of only 16 miles - what would I do with all that extra time!?!?!

Well, the week finally arrived and while it was nice to sleep in a bit and not have to do any doubles, the week was surprisingly difficult and left me feeling kind of...flat.   This has happened to me in past seasons as well.  I often do not feel as well on recovery weeks as I do during heavy training.  Not sure if it's just my body being jolted a bit out of its regular daily-grind rhythm, or if the sluggishness comes from the body absorbing the gains and making adaptations.  In either case, rest weeks have proven to be not so easy - both mentally and physically - and I have to remind myself constantly that my fitness has not disappeared when I'm dragging my tired legs up a hill in an "easy" 8-miler.   We all know that rest is where the magic happens, where we make our gains from the training.  But it can be so hard to take that much needed rest when it can leave you feeling more tired than you felt before!    I know that it's just a phase, that my body will adapt and I'll feel better once I get the next week going.  We'll get to that in a second, but here's how this past week shook out:

Monday - 9.7 miles (8:09 avg. pace)  Ran this with a friend and I was dragging.  I'd done pace miles (6 of them, 6:47 avg) on Saturday's run and they went terribly.  My legs were still very fatigued on Monday so this run was not great.

Tuesday - 7.5 miles (8:21 avg)  Ran a friend's tempo with him and felt surprisingly good.  Most likely because it was not MY tempo!  I love running other peoples' workouts with them - it's much more fun than running my own. :-)

This also happened.  I make no apologies. :)

Wednesday - REST.  Ahhhh.  I did my core work class at the gym in the morning but it was nice to sleep in and not have to get up at the crack of dawn for a run...though I felt oddly bereft to not have done my early morning wake-up-and-run routine.  I taught BodyPump later in the evening.

Thursday - 10.1 miles (7:10 avg)  Tempo time!  Ran with two of my speedy guy friends from a new location!  It was awesome to run somewhere different where I didn't know the route. It gave my mind a break and didn't give it a chance to anticipate (and dread) the hills. It was a cool(er) morning in the upper 60s with limited humidity so that was awesome, but unfortunately I was feeling the effects of the rest week and still felt sluggish.   Though I was sucking wind big time on the run, I was happy to have a decent 4-mile tempo with splits of 6:21, 6:20, 6:32, 6:26.

Friday - 8.7 miles (8:34 avg)  Recovery run.  I had an opportunity to run the first few with my father and I jumped at the chance.  I haven't been able to run with him that often since I do most of my training in the super-early-morning hours.   It was nice to catch up with him and run easy while enjoying the relatively low humidity.  Still feeling sluggish so my legs were grateful that I kept it easy. Taught BodyPump again later in the morning.

This is my post-run "I finally made it to back to my car" photo.  I had one of those flavored sparkling waters after a super hot run last week and now I am addicted.

Saturday - 16.3 miles (7:35 avg)  Long run with my group.  I was expecting to feel pretty awesome on this run (It's a rest week!  I had a recovery run yesterday!  I'm hydrated and fueled up!), but instead I felt like death from the start.  It was definitely not a confidence building run.  I kept having to reassure myself that yes, everyone has a run/several runs/a week of runs that don't feel great and don't go quite to plan.  I know that my fitness is there, but it sure seemed to be hiding on Saturday.  I struggled through this run but got it done.

Sunday - 8.0 miles (8:25 avg)  Recovery run.  Legs still felt sluggish so I decided to run to the track and do some laps since it was a) flat and b) had no cars to worry about and c) had a water fountain.  It was back to humid and HOT so I was grateful for the proximity to water!  I used the time to listen to my BodyPump track list and practice cueing - had anyone been at the track they would have gotten a kick out of hearing me shouting out loud while I pretended to coach my class!  All while running laps, of course :)  But, hey - it was a good time to rehearse!   Later in the day I taught my BodyPump class at noon and then competed in some parent swim relays for my stepdaughter's swim team.  (P.S. - if you want your Oiselle shorts to double as a bathing suit bottom make sure to double-knot the drawstring. :-) I remained decent, but lost valuable relay time due to shorts adjustment!!)

Total:  60 miles 

So with this (not so easy) rest week behind me, I am looking onward and upward to this week when I get back to some heavy training.  I've got 86 miles on the schedule and two workouts:  a fartlek-style workout and a shorter tempo.  I'm looking forward to getting back in the groove during these next few weeks - but I know that sub-3 won't come easy.    It's time to buckle down and get to work, folks!!

Anyone else out there feel worse during a recovery week?   Give me your favorite mantra/saying for getting through the last tough weeks of marathon training before taper!