The taper: in which training and Maurice Sendak connect

I began Sub-three about a year and a half ago with the intention of writing about my training leading up to my next marathon. Even though I called the blog sub-three, I didn’t harbour any serious ideas about a sub-three marathon at that point.

Nor did I anticipate that the first post I would write about my training would end up being about an injury and that for a year I would continue to be dogged with injuries.

I didn’t think it would be three years between marathons.

But here I am.

I am finally about to experience what has become to me that most mythical of training phases: the taper.

I’ve endured long runs of unheard of duration; true, they were mostly in the range of 20 miles, but they felt much longer to me. Some of them seemed to extend into forever and beyond.

I ran tempo runs of blinding speed, passing snails, tortoises and other, similar fleet-footed creatures.

The hills I ran extended into the clouds, ever winding up toward greater lofty heights. I brought extra oxygen so I could breathe in those extremities.

At the track, I set the virtual training partner on my Garmin for Usain Bolt mode and kicked his scrawny ass.

My work is done.

I am ready.

I’ve heard so much about the taper, how restless, how crazyit makes runners. Bring it.

I feel like Max in Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s story, Where the Wild Things Are.

The marthon training is like Max after he’s sent to his room without dinner and, magically, the forest grows and then “he sailed off through night and day/and in and out weeks/and almost over a year/to where the wild things are.

“And when he came he came to the place where the wild things are/they roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth.”

At its most intense, when you’re deep into long mid-week runs and even longer, long runs on the weekends, and snapping out tempos and hitting the track and trying to keep all that together along with your job, responsibilities at home, family, friends and everything else – that’s what marathon training feels like.

Then the taper arrives.

And it’s like this:

‘”And now,”’ cried Max, ‘”let the wild rumpus start!'”

Indeed.

It’s true because of fewer miles in a runner’s schedule and nerves leading up to a goal race, runners will experience the dreaded “taper madness.”

With more time on his or her hands, a runner’s nervous energy is suddenly poured into a couple of hundred Facebook posts and several thousands tweets on Twitter, for example, the day before the race.

This release of pressure helps calm runners’ nerves even while the lose about 90 per cent of their Facebook friends and some 72.4 per cent of their Twitter followers.

The taper is not just mindless celebration and frivolity though.

In his authoritative volume, The Lore of Running, Timothy Noakes writes that the research shows the effect of the taper is greatest if it combines a rapid decrease in volume in the first few days combined with high-intensity runs, approximating your five-km race pace.

“My advice is that once you decide to taper, do as little training as your mind will allow, but do that little training at a fast pace,” Noakes advises.

To me, those high-intensity runs done at in various combinations such as one-km repeats and five to 10 km road races are the wild rumpus, not the excessive nervous chatter leading up to a race.

I am hoping that when I return from having sailed off through night and day that I will be in peak shape for the real journey still yet to come.

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About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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3 Responses to The taper: in which training and Maurice Sendak connect

  1. Joseph Shipley says:

    Enjoy your taper, my friend. Then race like there’s no tomorrow. Can’t wait to read the race report.

  2. I’ll vouch for the repeats. That’s what I did to the run-up of my last race. I arrived healthy and primed.

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