I always say that I have a love-hate relationship with tapering. But, the truth is :: I really just hate it.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am officially freaking out.
Instead of being excited about my upcoming race, the vacation that will follow it, our almost-complete pergola, or the fact that Fall is finally here, I have spent the last three days talking to runners, physical therapists, my oh-so patient husband, and pretty much anyone else who will listen about all my phantom pains and panic attacks.
This taper is even worse than the last (and, yes, I say this every time). My ankle hurts. My Achilles hurts. No, wait, my shin hurts. So much so that on Tuesday morning, I quit 4 miles into a 6-mile run. I haven’t done that all season. It’s really that crazy!
The insanity of my current mindset didn’t sink in until I talked to my mom last night. When I started using words like “taper” and “phantom pain,” I quickly realized that she had no idea what I was talking about. Then, when I tried to explain what they mean, I quickly realized that I sounded nuts. My other non-running friends have just let me ramble without asking any questions, but not Mom. She couldn’t understand why I wasn’t enjoying my reduced training schedule or why I was suddenly freaking out about every little ache. Ultimately, I decided a change of subject was in order, and we moved on.
The taper is a fascinating phenomenon.
On the one hand, it is one of the most important components of any training cycle, particularly for long-distance runners. It is imperative that you have 2-3 weeks of reduced mileage before your goal race to allow your body to recover.
On the other hand, it makes runners go a little – or a lot – loony. When you run the mileage necessary to prepare for a marathon, you develop not only a physical, but also a physiological, dependency on running. I crave the feeling I have after a solid 10-mile weekday run or a 15+ mile weekend run — my mind is clear, my body cleansed, and my muscles achy in that ‘good way’ that lets you know you worked hard. So, the fact that all my runs are now 6 miles or less makes me feel lazy. Combine that with the self-imposed pressure to hit my goal time and the nervous energy associated with the fact that my goal race is 9 days 8 hours and 45 minutes away (damn web-timer), and you have a recipe for disaster!
Everyone keeps telling me that my “phantom pains” are just that. But, how can a “phantom” pain hurt so badly?
It turns out that all those minor twinges and new aches are all part of the rejuvenation process. During the taper, tissue repair is happening on a microscopic level, which causes the muscles to twitch and sometimes even cramp. So, take that — my pains are real!! (Yes, I spent a ridiculous amount of time today studying this issue. Hey, I have lots of extra energy remember?)
The so-called “solution” for these phantom pains is to accept each pain as a signal that the taper is working because the body is healing itself and preparing for the marathon. I know this is true. I tell my runners this is true. But, I still say it’s easier said than done.
So, I’d like to take a moment to thank my husband, my family, my friends, my co-workers, my runners, and anyone else whose path I cross in the next 9 days for putting up with my neuroses.
Now, please excuse me while I retreat to my nightly epsom salt bath…