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?  



Taper Madness

It's almost time, folks.  Five days from now I will be toeing the line at the start of my 9th marathon. But until then, I've got a few more days of the taper to survive!   I truly enjoy the daily grind of training - the 20-milers, the hard mid-week workouts - I feel most like myself when I'm in the thick of training.  During the taper I feel....adrift.  Unsettled.  I know I must rest and let my body recover before the race, but I miss my routine and begin to suffer from what many of us affectionately refer to as "taper madness".    How do you know if you are in full-on taper madness mode?  Have a look at my handy checklist:

  • 10-day Weather Expert - As soon at that 10-day forecast comes out, I'm on it.  And though the weather is definitely one variable I know I can't control, I'm somehow drawn to checking that stupid 10-day forecast every day.10-days out:  Rain?!  Bleh!!  8 days out - Oooh! No more rain, and a start around 49 degrees wouldn't be bad...7-days out:  Hmm...53 at the start is creeping up quickly into "too hot" territory...5-days out:  Yikes.  That starting temp of 54 looks warm for racing!!
  • Gear Obsession - Once I've seen today's updated 10-day forecast, I am now free to obsess about the gear I'll run in. Garmin?  No Garmin? Dig out the Timex watch?  (Do I remember how to work the Timex watch?) The shorter, lighter shorts that sometimes-but-not-all-the-time chafe? Thicker shorts that don't chafe but feel pretty heavy (and ride up) when they are wet?  Singlet?   Short sleeves?  Blind everyone with my super-white skin and go with the sports bra and shorts?   You know it's bad when you start WEIGHING your shorts to determine which pair is truly the lighter one.   And don't even get me started on shoes.Lululemon shorts vs....Oiselle shorts! And Oiselle shorts are the winner!

  • Training Amnesia - The taper always makes me doubt both my fitness and my training.  I find myself having to constantly look back at my log in an effort to remind myself that all of my hard-earned fitness is not magically evaporating into thin air.  I ran a solid 18-miler just over a week ago, right???  And just because today's little 6-mile run didn't feel so easy there's no need to panic - I can run over a minute and a half per mile faster than this....for 26.2 miles....yes??   Maybe??  Gahhhhhh.....Reminding myself I've put in the work...
  • Phantom Pains - In every taper I seem to have something crop up juuuuust as I'm starting to think I'll get to the start line in one piece.  Ghosts of injuries past?  Or simply my body healing all the little tears in the muscle?  Who knows.  This time around it's the tendonitis in my foot that seems to be choosing this exact moment to make a reappearance.  I'm hoping it's more in my head than anything else but I'm icing it anyway and hoping race day nerves/adrenaline will make it a non-issue.
  • Hungry, Hungry Hippo - Wait, no second afternoon snack today?  What do you mean I can't eat that giant stack of pancakes AND some eggs and bacon?  My body does not seem to understand (or enjoy) the fact that it is no longer running 90 miles a week and therefore does not get to eat accordingly.
  • Carb Overload:    I was eagerly awaiting my Monday trip to the grocery store.   Time to stock up on all my supplies for the upcoming carb-loading phase that starts on Thursday.  Normally I'm all about the whole grain goodness but in the last few days before the race I try to stick to less fiber-filled foods and go with relatively bland, high-carb, salty stuff.  I know I'll be sick of bagels and pretzels by Sunday but for now I'm excited to feel like I'm getting one step closer to that starting line.Carb overload! P.S. - Who remembers Kix cereal?!  Love it.
  • Normal Person attire/schedule -  Since I'm no longer running doubles and have stopped weight training this week, I've had some extra time on my hands.  While my body is telling me that it feels weird to not be heading to the gym, my mind has convinced me to try out the life of a normal person this week.   I ran this morning, showered and THEN....instead of getting back into athletic wear for workout #2, I got dressed in normal clothes!!!   In jeans!!  And I had time to get my hair cut!!  Woo hoo!!   I'm living it up over here, you guys.Now that I'm not running doubles I have time to get my haircut!

The finished product.  (At home, after it dried.  I still had to run out of there with it wet like a crazy person so that I wouldn't be late getting the girls from preschool) I even had time for a quick hot chocolate date with one of my little goofballs.

T-minus 4 days...good thoughts appreciated!

Taper Madness survivors - what other "symptoms" did I miss?  Tell me there are others out there that are as crazy as I am!  :)  Quick - what's your favorite race-worthy mantra/phrase that you use to psych yourself up?  


How to Choose Your Marathon Goal

Go big or go home? Greetings from Taperville!  I can't tell you how excited I am to have made it thus far without (knock on wood again) major incident.  Now that the bulk of the hard work is done, I thought I'd take today to talk about what's been on my mind for the past week or so:  how to chose my marathon goal.

For those of you who are running their very first marathon, your first goal should be just to finish!!  It's an amazing accomplishment to train and run 26.2 and when you do it for the first time, that's enough of a goal in itself.  It's an automatic PR!   No need to worry about time goals just yet.

But for those of us who've run one or two (or eight) of these things before, how do you go about choosing a time goal for your race?   When I'm making up my race day plan, I like to choose three goals:

An "A" Goal - This is your big (but still achievable) goal - it's the time you shoot for if the stars align and you wake up to great race day weather and a body that feels ready to roll and get the job done.

A "B" Goal -  This is a goal you'd still be happy with even if you deal with crummy weather or other adverse race conditions.  Perhaps it's to snag a PR, or just run the race at a solid effort - but it's a goal that should feel achievable in most scenarios.

A "C" Goal - A goal that you feel you can reach almost no matter what.  This might be just to finish the race. Or to continue pushing hard in those last 6 miles.   This a great goal to have in mind if you find yourself in a race day scenario where things are going from bad to worse quickly.  (i.e. it's terrible weather, you drop all of your race nutrition on the ground (yes it's happened to me), you have to make pit stops during the race, etc.)

So now that you know about these three types of goals, how do you set them?  I've honestly struggled with setting mine for weeks now.  I've settled on two of them:

My "C" goal was the easiest - finish the race and don't give up.

And my "B" goal will be to PR - to run under a 3:09.  

But my "A" goal....that's tougher.   I went into this season just coming off a significant injury (my stress fracture) and honestly I wasn't sure I'd even make it to the taper in one piece.  Thankfully this season has gone better than expected and I'm here.   Normally I'd have gone into my 12-week training block with an end goal in mind for the full marathon - a time that I'd use to help me decide which paces to run over the course of the season so that I could prepare.  In some ways, I sort of did that.   When I started the training, I thought about how cool it would be to run under 3 hours.  But....that's over 9 minutes faster than my current PR (3:09 set at Shamrock last year).  So I can't say I expected to really go for that goal in the actual marathon, but I decided to try and run my pace miles at or around the pace I'd need for a sub-3 time.  (6:52/mile)  And for the most part, I managed it.  I did three runs that included marathon-paced miles as part of my long run, with those marathon-paced miles totaling 8 miles at pace for the first run, 9.4 for the second (the Frostbite 15K race), and 12 miles for the last run.   I averaged 6:48 for the pace miles.   Okay so far, right?   BUT.  Those pace miles felt very challenging.  I managed it, but it wasn't comfortable at all.  And on my tempo runs and speed work I found that I wasn't able to hit the corresponding paces that McMillan's calculator suggested I should be hitting if I was hoping to run sub-3.   Yikes.  On the positive side, this season I've upped my mileage and was thrilled that it has seemed to help my recovery time tremendously.  I've also added in BodyPump this season (both teaching and taking the class) and that has also added to the total stress on my legs.  So...here I am.  I've got a season where I've hit the pace mile runs, but not quite the tempo/speedwork runs.  And I've upped my mileage and added strength training with success.  Where does that leave me?  Go for sub-3 or not?

Ultimately, for anyone out there reading, I suggest that to set your "A" goal, you take a look at your training over the season and see what it tells you.   Look at your pace miles (if you did them) or your splits for your long runs to get an idea of what you might be capable of on race day.  Keep in mind your body's current state (healthy?  No lingering injuries?) and the amount of training you may have missed along the way.  Once you look over your key workouts and season as a whole, then decide on what you think you can run on race day.

That being said, my "A" goal probably should be somewhere around sub 3:05.   It's a challenging time to hit and while my season suggests I'm capable of that, it won't be easy to get there.  But there's one more piece of this puzzle:  heart.    I look back on the training I've done this season and at times I simply can't believe that I've made it through unscathed. (Of course, now that I've put this out there I'm sure I've thoroughly jinxed myself)  I only run two marathons a year - if I'm lucky. I feel like in many ways I've been given a gift this season - a rare opportunity to try and do something big.  To try for that sub-3.  It's a gamble for sure.  I may get to mile 13, realize that the pace is WAY too fast and crash and burn to struggle home for a 3:20 finish.  Or I could have the race of my life and nab the time.   But at this point I feel like.....how can I not TRY?  Just try.  It may go horribly, I know.  But you won't know until you give it a chance.  And while I would be very bummed if I blew up and struggled in, I think I might be more disappointed to not even attempt it.  So that's what I'm going to do.

My "A" goal is to run a 2:59 marathon.

From now until the race I'm going to be putting my energy into convincing myself that I can do it.  That it's possible, that I'm ready and that all of the work I've done over the last few months will carry me to the finish.  I may never get a season like this again, so I'm going to make the most of it.

I'm hoping I fly

Any words of wisdom for me?  Good thoughts and prayers are also greatly appreciated. :)