Tapering and the “Injury Gremlin”
Running is a physical and mental sport. After several marathons and other races, I am very well aware of this fact. In order to go out and run a race or train for any sizable amount of time, regardless of the weather conditions or your excitement, you need to play the mental game. You are ultimately fighting the Gremlins in your head. For me, one of the worst Gremlins is the “injury gremlin” and he typically emerges when I begin to taper close to a race. Suddenly every small pain and creak in my body has more meaning than it should. I’m not a fan of him.
Did I mention that I just entered my taper?
After hitting the pavement harder than ever before over the past three months, the time has finally come for me to enter the simultaneously coveted and difficult period of tapering before my race on April 21st. I have thoroughly enjoyed pushing myself with weekly mileage increases and I’ve seen marked improvements in my endurance and speed along the way. However, I’m not going to lie- I’m a bit excited to regain a bit of time in my life for other activities! This is especially important since Spring has sprung early and there is plenty of work to get done outside so the lawn doesn’t turn into something out of a children’s horror film.
Up until now, I haven’t given tapering all that much thought prior to a race, aside from knowing that I had to ease up on my mileage. However, I know I’m not alone when I say that this is when every runner’s mind starts to mess with them. I don’t want to ease up too much and find myself losing momentum leading up to the race. On the other hand, I certainly don’t want to over-train and not have enough energy left when race day rolls around. Additionally, the “injury gremlin” starts to emerge. I know you know what I’m talking about. I may have been accustomed to some aches and pains over the last couple of months, but now that I’m tapering, every twinge and muscle cramp suddenly becomes significant and I get paranoid and think it’s much worse than the reality seems. For this reason, the last few weeks leading up to a race are as much about mental training as the rest of your training cycle, if not more. After my first marathon, I assumed the “injury gremlin” would go away with subsequent races, but I’m fairly certain at this point that I’m always going to be dealing with my mind’s attempt to psych me out! Perhaps it’s simply a manifestation of our brains telling us we shouldn’t be working this hard 🙂
At any rate, I’m going to be working very hard over the next few weeks to taper intentionally. I’m going to be following a strict running schedule, and not succumb to the temptation to squeeze in a “few more miles” even though I know the competitive spirit in me is going to want to push on. I’m also going to try and squeeze in some more cross-training, with cycling being my preferred method. It can be a great low-impact workout that helps to maintain your cardio and endurance, and strengthens your legs without the stress of pounding the pavement.
In doing some reading on tapering, I was happy to confirm that my 3 weeks of tapering seems just about right for the 40-mile distance I’ll be tackling later this month, although I’m sure a few more days would be ok as well. In general, the timeline breaks down something like this:
Marathon Distance: 19 to 22 days
15K to 30K: 11 to 14 days
5k to 10K: 7 to 10 days
This period is also a great time to start making sure you have all your ducks in a row. Are your shoes still holding up? Do you want to change out your laces? Have you ordered the nutrition you’ll be using during the race? Do you have all of the gear (water bottles, sunglasses, socks, etc.) that you need for the race? Do you have your travel plans confirmed and know the location and time for packet-pick up? What are you going to be eating the night before the race? Can you tell that I’m a planner? 🙂
So, as I maintain my level of fitness and endurance and prepare myself for the race to come, I’ll be doing my best not to let the “injury gremlin” creap into my head and mess with the hard work I’ve already put in. As is always the case when defeating a gremlin- just add water!
Other Tapering Resources
Runner’s World- It’s Taper Time
Marathon Training.com- Tapering
Runningnut.com- The Ultimate Marathon Tapering Guide
Marathon Training Tips- Slow Down For Maximum Performance