Marathon Training: Love, Hate, and The Taper

“I wanna go fast!”  — Ricky Bobby

Tapering is a time of running lower miles and slower paces as you approach a long race, such as a half or full marathon.  It is designed to help us be ready for the big day…to help us meet our goal.  Amongst my hundreds of runner friends on Twitter, Facebook, and this blog, however, there is a disdain (or at the very least a discomfort) that is often expressed towards the taper.

If the taper can help us meet our goals, why such negative emotions?

Why is it that runners have such a tumultuous relationship with the taper?

For most of us, it can best be described as a love/hate relationship.  Theoretically, we love the taper.  We know that we have been using and abusing our bodies in hill workouts, 20 mile runs, track workouts, pace runs, tempo runs, interval training, and many other torturous yet wonderful ways.  Struggling through these workouts and giving everything we have has built our muscles, our endurance, and our confidence.  Runners love to push themselves.  We pride ourselves on this kind of self-denial.  Push, press, strive!

Here is where the conflict arises.  I have now been training for this marathon for over 4 months.  I have pushed my limits and done all of the aforementioned workouts day in and day out for 17 weeks.    For 119 days, pushing it to the limit was my goal.  The days that I had to take off were horrible!  I was thinking about what I should be running.  Now… after all of this time… you want me to ease up?  You want me rested?  Fewer miles?  Less effort?  Are you absolutely nuts??!!??  Where is the “Dislike” button on this thing!  No. It is absolutely unnatural.  I don’t want to do it.

The conflict continues as our brain reminds us to check in on our body parts.  Feet?  Sore.  Knees?  Swollen.  Calves?  Do you even have to ask?  Hamstrings, quads?  Yes, they are communicating loudly as well.  We know that we need the rest.  We know we need the time to heal.  It makes sense.

In the meanwhile, our spirit cries out for more striving, not less.  Our habits call for more miles, not fewer.  Our hearts love the long run.  That is why we got into this.  We love endorphins.  Let’s go get some more, right?  Wrong.  It is time to taper and heal.  We must stifle the voice crying out for endorphins and go with logic.  Bottle up all of that energy.  Store up all those carbs.  Build up that emotional energy… and pop the cork on all that pressure on race day.

If we taper right, we will be like the champagne bottle coming uncorked on race day.  Our spirit will burst forth at the sounding of the starting gun.  The cap will fly off and all of that conflict, … all of that pressure that we allowed to build through the taper… if we can manage the flow just right… will end up in a PR & all of the endorphins from two weeks flow in one session.  Good times, but only if we taper.

Happy running!

  1. The one piece of advice given to me is to TAPER AND ENJOY IT. As someone who ran my first marathon almost 3 weeks ago I didn’t do this. I was doing P90X (two workouts 2x a days on my off days). I regret it because I came out of my marathon (while accomplished) with an injury and now I’m out of running even longer now. So now in May I’m doing what I should have done, and I’m going to enjoy my next taper. Great post!

  2. It’s all about the endorphins. My body gets used to them, even if I’m only running 3x/week. Going without them for two weeks is torture because my body’s going, “When are we getting more endorphins? Now? How ’bout now?”

    But I think it makes the race itself more enjoyoble because it’s a huge release.

  3. I have FINALLY learned to appreciate the taper. In my recent past, I hated it too, but now my mileage is high, and I’m pushing so hard, that I welcome the taper. Progress!

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