Tapering

Marathon training programmes, at least for inexpert runners, seem to follow a common pattern. You increase your distances gradually week by week, peaking with long runs of around three-quarters of marathon length. (Why not longer? I suppose it isn’t considered worth draining your reserves completely and risking injury.)  Then there’s a “tapering” period for the final two or three weeks, during which distances drop off again before the race day. Apparently, science indicates that this improves your ability on the day.

I’m in the last week before the marathon and, to my surprise, I’m finding this strangely difficult.

First, it’s tricky to keep focused. I know I’m supposed to be concentrating mainly on diet and general well-being during the last few weeks.  But I’ve found myself feeling as if the hard work has been done, so now I can just give up and go to seed again.

A friend who was a heavy smoker once said that starting to give up smoking was no problem: the difficult bit came after a few weeks when you caught yourself thinking “well! that was easy—now for a cigarette”. It feels a bit like that: as if the event has already been done, merely through training for it.

Meanwhile, I feel much less fit than I did a month ago. My last 30-or-so km run was pretty enjoyable, and at the time I felt I could just keep going for another 10km and be done with it. But I went down with a nasty cold straight after that, and since then I’ve been struggling. Any cough must be the onset of a terrible flu; any pain seems like a potentially disastrous injury. Back a bit sore from sleeping all wrong? Knee feeling a bit funny? Shoulder aching, possibly a recurrence of that old mousing injury? I’m never going to be able to run with that.

I’ve run about 530km during the last twelve weeks—more than a marathon’s distance a week on average—but all that training seems a very long way away.

As a consequence, and probably for the good, my expectations are now far lower than they were. I generally run at the equivalent of about a 4-hour marathon on long runs, but in training I’ve sometimes felt so comfortable I’ve started daydreaming about unexpectedly superb competitive results. Now I’m back to thinking of it as a day out in which I happen to be running about a bit: just hoping I get to the end without my legs giving out too badly.