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Monday, March 5, 2012

Tapering is harder than training

I am officially less than two weeks away from the Quintiles Marathon @ Wrightsville Beach and the taper started a week ago.  Every time I do my last big long run before the taper begins I am energized thinking about all of the hard work that I have put in over the past few months and how much I will savor the taper.  I always think that I will feel snappy and full of energy during that period.

It never happens.

Every taper I struggle.  Workouts that used to be relatively easy, I cannot finish.  The confidence that I used to be brimming with, disappears.  "Can I/Should I even run the marathon?" is a question that always crosses my mind.  Yesterday I had one of those workouts that was a struggle.  My running buddy Matthew met me at 7:30 on the Greenway for 4 x 2 miles at tempo with 2:00 rests.  Before Quintiles last year I made it through three of the 2 miles, and ran some of the best splits I had at that point and was very tough mentally.  This year, different story.  I labored after the first mile and lost myself mentally.  My brain was firing panic messages and in the middle of the second repeat I pulled up.  Matthew is such a positive training partner and he tried to reason with me, but I was a blubbering mess.  (I bet he did not know what he was in for that morning!)  We pushed through a bit more, but I was done mentally.

On the way home I called my coach, Tom Clifford.  I left a message telling him about the workout (which was coming off a rough one Thursday).  I even uttered the words "I don't know if I should do Quintiles."  He called me back within a few minutes on his way to meet the team for a long run in Wilmington.  Somehow Tom knows when to be hard on me (believe me he has let me have it before...but it was always when I needed a kick the the bum) and when to not be.

"So, how was the race?  Oh yeah, I forgot, it was a workout!"  is how our conversation began.  He always has to remind me that workouts are not races, and if they don't go well it does not mean that you will not race well.  From there he was everything that a coach should be.  Reminding me to stop putting pressure on myself, how I typically do not run well while tapering (I ran a 19:30 5K two weeks before a sub-three marathon in 2003 and 2011), and it is normal to doubt yourself during the taper.  When your body is used to running 90-100 miles a week and then it drops, your body starts to repair, rest, and ready itself for the big task coming up.  This often leaves the runner physically and emotionally drained.  It is so hard for me to remember this.  I did go into the workout telling myself this was a do-or-die situation.  If I nailed it, I would run well in the marathon, if I did not, the marathon was going to be a failure.  That was too much pressure, especially for the windy and cold conditions that we had that morning.  It seems so silly as I read it now.  Why would one workout trump the last 4 months of workouts?

Tom told me to eat, relax, take a nap, and then go to the track, warm up two miles, do two at tempo, and cool down two.  The purpose was two-fold: 1) Since I did not finish the workout that morning, I needed a bit more so that I would not be too rested too soon for the marathon and 2) get my head back in the game.  He told me to run with my heart and not my head.  My husband joined me at the middle-school track in town with the wind still blowing and snow starting to fall.  On he same effort, I ran 6:01, 5:55.  I was not even breathing hard.  All heart.  When I turned in to the wind on the backstretch each time, I just put my head down, focused on form, and thought about how nice the home stretch will feel, instead of how hard it is to hold pace into the wind.

Training can be so easy once you get into a schedule, but the taper can be so hard.  It is crucial to have good friends and coaches to keep you from doubting too much.

Even though I might not run great workouts over the next two weeks, the one thing that I will focus on is having MAlice going to the start line at Quintiles and not just Alice.


Steve Crowder said...

It always amazes me how even those of us who are very experienced competitors have a hard time looking at our training objectively. That's why having a good coach and a good support group is so helpful. You are plenty ready to have a great race in a couple weeks, and I think deep down you know that. Be confident in what you've done and let your body do what you've programmed it to do on race day!

alice louise kassens uhl said...

Thanks Steve. You guys (and Jackie) help me so much. I value having such a great group of people to run with here in VA and I appreciate all of your encouragement! I hope to make our Fincastle proud March 18!

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