Welcome to Taperville. Taperville is both an imaginary and real place. It’s the place marathon runners visit any where between 3-2 weeks prior to running their targeted marathon. For the non-runners out there you need to understand that to compete in a marathon (for the non-non-runners that is 26.2 miles) a runner requires at least six months of grueling training. This entails building up ones weekly mileage numbers incrementally until the final 4-6 weeks prior to beginning to “taper” for the marathon.
As an example, since the end of August I logged weekly total miles from 45 miles per week to a high of 60 miles one week. It’s also not only simply running miles. A well trained runner will also include faster paced efforts referred to as speed or tempo runs each week. An even better trained runner will include runs over hilly routes or hill repeats. Most runners also include a series of other conditioning efforts such as weights, yoga, or biking. Then there comes a point in the training process where there is little to be gained. The body needs to rest and recuperate. Muscles need to begin to store energy to enable the runner to run the entire 26.2 miles. This is the period known as the taper, or what I refer to as “Taperville”.
Many runners refer to this period in their training to “taper madness”. I have yet to fully attain a true madness level when I enter my taper periods but I suspect there are several reasons for the term madness. First, the runner is not used to running less each week. They do not know what to do with that extra time on their hands (advice: do not over eat). There is also a sense of becoming out of shape. The runner begins to no longer experience a nonstop sense of fatigue that they have become accustomed to experiencing. They do also eat a bit more and if not careful will gain unwanted pounds. Then they begin to have serious doubts about their running ability. Not running as much, not feeling like a runner, and gaining weight too! Yikes! No reason they call it a madness!
There is a specific approach to tapering. The misconception is that the runner should drastically cut back on the miles they have been running on a regular basis. This is perhaps the worse thing a runner can do during this time frame. While there are many formulas for proper tapering methods the successful ones all have a common element or basis. To taper properly the runner needs to continue to run their regular workouts but do cut back on the long runs. The runner also needs to continue to perform speed, tempo, and maybe even a hill run or two during the taper period. The key is to do what the name implies, taper! Gently, slowly until the final total rest days prior to the marathon.
When I ran the New York Marathon in 2008, I remember touring NYC and feeling like a total tourist, I did not feel like I could run at all! Yes, I was very worried about that feeling too. Turns out that I had my best marathon experience ever in that marathon! I hit my targeted goal (sub 3:30) and actually enjoyed passing other runners during the final miles in Central Park.
This year as my next marathon approaches on October 12th in Chicago, I am beginning to feel the same way as I did in NYC. I feel fat and bloated, yet my morning scale says otherwise. I have begun to enjoy extra time around the house to take the dog for a walk, complete a chore, or simply sit outside and enjoy this great Michigan weather instead of lacing up my shoes for another run. I do plan to do a speed workout on the track tonight with the Running Fit 501 group however, as I sit here wrapping up this post, I do not feel like a runner.
Run Happy out there.