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Taper Reflections

Last Tuesday I ran 20 miles. Then yesterday I ran 15. It was technically my first week of the taper for MCM.

While I know two double digit long runs within a week doesn’t exactly sound like your typical taper schedule, given my training over the past 4 months, it was actually pretty fitting. My mileage this time around has been all over the place. I’ve had a series of mini tapers and recovery weeks, I’ve run long runs wherever I could fit them in, and have pretty much just made things up as I went along.

I didn’t start off the training cycle planning for it to be this way. I was going to stick to a strict plan, build up mileage the traditional way, and prepare for this marathon as best as I could. But if you click on my training page, you’ll notice that plan was never created. Sure, I sat down a couple of times and roughly sketched out the progression of long runs to see what I had to do to build up to 20 miles, but then I just went about stumbling through marathon training, one week at a time.

Why would I ever do this?? Well after a few weeks of training this summer, it became pretty clear that I needed to do something different. I was having a hard time adjusting, and was struggling with my mental attitude. So partially by design and partially because of circumstance, this summer I conducted a plan-less training experiment. And I don’t mean the type of “non-plan” that meant I would sit down at the beginning of each week and outline the type of workouts I needed to fit in. I mean that beyond knowing when my races were and when I’d have to run my first 20-miler in order to fit in 2 – 3 of them, I literally had no plan.

I know what most of you are thinking already, so before you object that this is not the way you do things when training for such a big race, let me just say: I know. I don’t think this is a good idea for first time marathoners and I’m not actually advocating for others to do the same. But I’d like to think that I’ve been training long enough to know what I need to do to prepare for a marathon. By this point, I don’t really need a day by day schedule to tell me what to run. I understand the amount of miles I should put in, the speed work I should do, and the types of cross training (like lifting) that can make me a better runner. In theory, I should be fine just making things up as I go.

But what I discovered after my 16(ish) week experiment? I like having structure.

I like having the plan spelled out before me in black and white. I like looking at this week and all the weeks after that to see what I need to accomplish and what it will lead to. I like seeing how each training run builds on the one before that, and just how far I’ve come to get to that point. Structure isn’t something that I feel weighed down or stressed out by – structure actually helps me thrive.

I know I’m not alone in this. There’s a reason people spend hours researching training styles and writing up training plans; or spend money to hire an experienced coach to guide them through training. Lots of runners thrive on structure – on numbers and data and a general order.

That wasn’t me this summer, however. For whatever reason, I didn’t really want all that feedback and guidance. I wanted to do what I wanted, when I wanted. And although typing it out this way makes me sound like the spoiled runner-child, the reality is – it worked out okay. …or at least I think it did. My only real worry every week was getting in my long run, and I sort of enjoyed the break. My mileage wasn’t as high as it has been in the past (as it probably should have been) and I didn’t go through that normal progression of buiding up to a peak before cutting back gradually during the taper. But I made it. Sort of. Here I am, two weeks out from my marathon, feeling ready to race. I may not be in any shape to run a PR time, but I know I’ll be able to do finish.

watermelon_sweating shirt

So why am I rambling on about all this? Because now that I’ve made it to the taper phase, I’m kind of lost. Since my mileage was all over the place and my last 20-miler was on a Tuesday of the following week, my weekly mileage never peaked at a certain number. Which means I can’t really follow the standard formulas – reducing your peak mileage by 20% the first week, then by 40% – 50% the following week, and finally cutting back enough the week of your marathon so that leading up to the race, you only run about 1/3 of your peak mileage (source: here and here). All I can do at this point, I suppose, is focus on the basics. As with the rest of my training, I know what long runs I need to do to lead up to the marathon. And I know the other taper “rules” I should be following, like:

    • Run easy – Besides one short marathon pace workout in the middle of the week and some 100 meter striders following my runs, I plan on (trying) to keep my runs slow and easy. This means no going out and averaging 7:45’s during my weekday runs even if I’m feeling awesome. The focus should be on recovery.
    • Get lots of sleep – Getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep every night is not one of my strong points. So the goal for the next two weeks is to rest up.
    • Prepare my mental game – I’ve struggled with my mental attitude more than anything this training cycle. It’s gotten better in the past couple of weeks, but I know it still isn’t where it needs to be if I want to tackle 26.2 at the end of the month. I have two more weeks to psyche myself up for this race.

believe bracelet

    • Hydrate – Even though yesterday’s weather was cool and not at all humid, I could tell I was dehyrdated a couple of miles into the run. When you plan on running for 2 hours, this is not a good way to start. For the next two weeks, I need to focus on being hydrated every single day.
    • Ice – As much as I love my pink and green racing flats, I have to admit that my knees haven’t been the same since I tore down the side of a mountain in Oregon while wearing them. For the past month and a half, I’ve been struggling on and off with knee pain. I plan to spend extra time icing this week and next, to make sure that pain doesn’t get in the way of MCM.

ice cups

  • Carbo-loading – You can’t just shovel in a bunch of carbs the night before a big race and think that your glycogen stores will be topped off. It’s better to start increasing the amount of carbs gradually (as well as focusing on eating healthy fats and proteins a couple of weeks before the race). Fortunately, that’s one thing I’m pretty good at already.

I know we’ve all heard it said 1,000 times before – trust the taper. But whenever I get to this phase of marathon training, I find that it’s easier said than done. I get antsy and nervous, and all I can think about is running my stress away. This time, I’m finding that trusting the taper is even harder than ever. I know my training is what it is – I can’t change it now. All I can do is focus on getting rest, and hope that I’ve done enough.

I guess we’ll find out in 13 days…

18 Responses to Taper Reflections

  1. Lauren, you’re such a pro that I have no doubt you’ll kick that marathon’s booty. I’m glad you took the unplanned approach because at least it showed you how you prefer to train.

    I really, really hope your knee pain goes away by race day. Good luck surviving the taper! I know you’ll go crazy, but I also know you’ll come out the other side ready to race. :)
    Jen´s last post ..The problem with should

  2. I have done something like this when I was a really serious swimmer. I had been competing for 10 years so I knew what my body needed and was able to do what was best for myself.

    You have enough experience that you should be good to go! Just follow those taper rules and do what feels right for your body!
    Shannon @ Mon Amour´s last post ..The Baltimore Half Marathon Race Report

  3. your non-plan plan intrigues me. Sometimes I think following plans too closely are what gets me injured slash burnt out. But like you, I love structure too! There is a happy medium in there I have yet to find. You’ve been running really well despite not having a plan! All of those relays should be such a benefit, no? I really like your taper strategy – trust it! You’ve put in the work. Don’t stress. (I know, easy for me to say)
    Kelly´s last post ..20 Miles, Deja Vu

    • I hope so! I like to think the relays have helped me practice racing on dead legs but who really knows. I guess we’ll find out soon enough…

  4. I am sure you know enough that you will still do great in MCM! You might even surprise yourself!:)

    I am not sure I would like training without a plan, even if I knew roughly what to do. I like seeing my plan in excel even if I modify it as I go along based on how I feel.
    Celia´s last post ..multiple marathons

  5. I definitely love training plans and structure! Crossing off every run in marathon training is so rewarding/motivating for me. But that’s great that you listened to your body and knew it wouldn’t work for you this training cycle and went with it. I don’t think I’m experienced enough to do that yet.
    Caroline´s last post ..Love what you do

  6. I’m running MCM in 2 weeks, too…and it’s my first marathon! I’m getting really nervous heading into the taper (I had a bit of a similar post today, actually), especially since I had to start my taper a week later than I should have. I had a bad back injury and was only able to start training about 2.5 months ago…after not being able to run all summer. I’ve definitely had to readjust my expectations for the race, but now that the taper has started (and so have the taper crazies I think), I’m having a harder time trusting my training than I ever have before. Normally I feel ready to take on a race at this point…this time I’m just hoping to make it to the finish line!
    Amanda @ Running On Waffles´s last post ..Marathon Mondays: The Taper

  7. Im running mcm too…definitely needed to read this today -thank you!! I get nervous and anxious about not doing much as far as running but it s good to be reminded that all those other things are just as important at this point!

  8. I do love structure, but if it wasn’t what you needed in order to get yourself mentally ready then I’m sure you will do great!

    Just remember, you are stronger than you think!
    Jamie @ couchtoironwoman´s last post ..We survived!

  9. I totally hear you on the structure issue. I am one of those people who has a coach, because I need that spreadsheet for the month keeping me where I need to be. Although some workouts are not what I want to do on a given day, if they are there, I get them done. Good luck at MCM!
    Jessica Morrison´s last post ..Run Like A Mother

  10. I just started my taper and I’m pretty sure I’m going to go insane. Maybe not this week — but the week after.

    I think you are in such a good place with your running that you CAN afford to try something new. You’re not advocating it to others – but you’re motivating yourself by changing things up a little. I’m not sure about trusting the taper – but DEFINITELY trust your body. You’re going to rock MCM!!
    Michelle @ Crazy*Running*Legs´s last post ..Yes, You Should

  11. I love that… TRUST THE TAPER. I need to write that down backwards on my forehead with a Sharpie.

    You are going to have a great MCM :)
    XLMIC´s last post ..A Day Full of Promise…

  12. Yep, trust the taper. You’ll be fine.

    I hear ya about liking structure. I do, too. I flounder when I don’t have a specific plan.
    Lauren´s last post ..Monday night

  13. I definitely understand sometimes need a break from a plan – that pretty much describes my summer as well! As you’ve said, you’ve been running for quite awhile and know the kinds of workouts/long runs you need to complete. Sometimes structure is great (feels so good to cross a training run off a calendar or list!), but other times we all need a mental break. Despite this training cycle’s ups and downs, I have a good feeling about your race :)

    My BFF (who I just drove out to Wisconsin with) will actually be at the MCM marathon, I will tell her to look out for you!
    Megan (The Runner’s Kitchen)´s last post ..Midwest Adventures

    • Yay! My cheering squad for the race is slowly dwindling, so tell her I would definitely appreciate the cheers if she sees me! :)

  14. I actually went with a “no plan” plan for Twin Cities a couple weeks ago, which made me nervous as time went on, especially during the taper when I had more time to freak out about it. But you know what? I PR’d. I was in the same shoes as you…I’ve been running and training long enough that I knew what kinds of long runs and speed workouts I needed to get in, and otherwise I just ran what I felt like doing and what my body was telling me. HTC included! When I needed time off I took it, when I felt great, I went for a longer run. Speed work here and there. A structured plan is awesome when you need it, but sometimes you just need to take a step back and run what you want to, especially if you’re having mental struggles where you might freak out if you’re not feeling it on a long tempo day. I think you’ve put in enough work and are smart enough to trust in your training come race day, and you might end up surprising yourself! I know I did…perhaps we actually know what we’re doing?

    The taper certainly helps as long as you use it properly! No awesome speedy runs, get the right nutrition/hydration/sleep. It definitely will make a difference come race day!

  15. Definitely trust in your training! Your no-plan-plan has offered you mentally exactly what you needed. You have fit in the mileage, long runs, and key workouts that you needed. You have experience on your side and you are ready for this. I can’t wait to hear what race day has in store for you. BELIEVE!
    Nancy@triathletestrials´s last post ..The Barre Effect

  16. Oh my Lauren….it sounds to me like you probably needed a break but continued to fight through the training and that in itself makes this training cycle a huge success. I think you are going to really surprise yourself come next Sunday and I can’t wait to follow you along on the journey VIA TWITTER!

    I agree with you about needing structure or at least a basic idea of a plan but as an experienced marathoner, you know you will succeed. Then we can take some distance breaks and start running shorter distances in the fall and winter : )
    Lizzy´s last post ..Butternut Squash Lasagna

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