Cutting back

“Racing is the fun part; it’s the reward of all the hard work.” – Kara Goucher

It’s been a few years since I’ve written my taper plan in the blog, so when a reader left a comment on the blog for me to explain the process, it seemed like a good idea.

Really, it’s easier for me to fish out old posts then expect readers to find them. Here’s a 2009 post about tapering, and another more detailed post from early 2010.

Here’s an overly simplified version of my training plan in the weeks leading up to the marathon:

  • Highest mileage weeks, with longest runs, fall during 3 and 5 weeks out from race day.
  • The 4th week prior to the race will be a cut-back week, meaning I’ll do about 10 percent fewer miles from week 5. For instance, if my highest mileage weeks top out at 50 miles, than the “cut-back” week will be 45 miles.
  • Technically, my mileage does begin to fall off during the final weeks, but not dramatically. The 3rd week will still be 75 percent of the highest week, but intensity and frequency remains the same. And I will absolutely have a long run. The mileage total drops by shaving a few miles off of weekday runs.
  • The pattern continues in the 2nd week prior to race day. Frequency and intensity stay the same. Early in the week, individual workout distances remain constant. But, at the start of the 10-day taper, I will drastically cut miles. My “long run” day, in my case its usually Saturdays, will have me running 8 to 12 miles. If I feel like I need rest, I’ll keep it to the shorter side.
  • During race week, I continue to cut miles, but keep intensity. I’ll take an extra day off, and aim to complete about 25 percent of my high mileage total.
Now also seems like a good time to address the day before the race, particularly the carbo-loading strategy I’ve used during at least 12 marathons. This carbo-loading plan, based on research from the University of Western Australia, works for me.For the record, I also don’t use a carbo-loading plan for half marathons, unless one considers pizza and beer the night before as a strategy. Further, I don’t carbo-load prior to long training runs or take gels during them. In short, the “train low, race high” philosophy to carbohydrate fueling has been successful for me.

In short: my goal each training cycle is to run through all conditions because the weather on marathon day is unpredictable, run on the toughest terrain possible since it will build strength and confidence, and restrict glucose levels during training for elevated benefits during the race.

The 10-day taper

“The essence of real athletes is that you’re always competing against yourself,” said former NHL goalie Mike Richter. “With running, it’s just a different arena. That feeling I had when playing hockey, it’s still there. You play with as much excellence as you can.” – As written by Liz Robbins, author of “A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York”

The mystique of the marathon will always be there.

And with it comes questions – from those fascinated or dismayed why anyone would run that far, virgin marathoners aiming to complete the first race or runners looking to improve.

There are hundreds of legitimate questions. And often, there is more than one right answer. Or variations of the right answer.

Luckily, my obsessive research helped address most of the biggest variables as I prepared for Grandma’s Marathon in 2008. Detailed training, excessive reading and knowing how my body might respond proved key in crossing the finish line for the first time. After a couple races, I had discovered and proven what works for me, and I’ve stuck to nearly all of those principles in my 15 marathons to date.

But there’s always a little doubt. For instance, it’s been more than 2 years since I’ve run a marathon, and I am finding myself reviewing old training logs to make sure I accurately recall what I did right. Plus, every training cycle is a little bit different as variables, and life circumstances, pop up. Those who fail to respect the marathon, and its 26.2 miles, will be humbled by it.

Today marked a threshold moment in training. Not so much for the miles I ran – among the fewest since I began my streak of consecutive running days – but because what the day represents. Today marked the beginning of my 10-day taper.

For most of the past 4 months, I’ve tweaked and improvised training from week to week. Along the way, I have looked forward to the taper.

A lot of plans call for a 3-week taper, which I found is simply too long for me. A lot of coaches suggest veteran runners implement a 2-week taper. Personally, I’ve settled on 10 days, with some advanced research backing up a range from 10 to 14 days.

It’s tricky: stay sharp, don’t over train and arrive at the starting line. But you also don’t want to be undertrained. For most runners, this represents a lot of gray area. It’s a matter of peaking on a day – the day you’ve circled on a calendar – and following a routine that allows it to happen.

This training cycle has been unprecedented in several ways, notably the streak of consecutive running days and fighting through the fatigue to run every day. The toughest days, really, have been Mondays and Tuesdays since September. That may sound odd, my long runs seemed to take 2 days to catch up with my body, so pulling myself out of bed to run at 5 a.m. isn’t the most liberating way to start each week.

It happened every Monday. And every Tuesday. The streak continued into Wednesdays as I had recovered enough – even after logging 8 to 10 mile runs – to the point where I felt my strength building as the week progressed.

Still, as the countdown to the New York City Marathon slips into single digits, and the calendar slides to late October, I am ready for the taper. I’m ready to reach for my goal.

The wild life

“For me, running is a lifestyle and an art. I’m far more interested in the magic of it than the mechanics.” – Lorraine Moller, marathon Olympic bronze medalist

Running during the early morning hours offers some benefits.

This amazing autumn provides ideal training weather for a marathon. Perfectly clear skies open up a galaxy of stars, and if you’re careful, enough light to run without using a headlamp. And encounters with wildlife otherwise hidden from sight.

One day last week, as I returned from an 8-mile circuit south of Grand Forks, I spotted a fawn in the distance. It stood on the street, underneath the dull hue of the street light, as a doe stepped onto the concrete. And then another fawn. And another. In all, there were 6 deer making their way to the river near the Greenway.

A few weeks ago, as I worked my way up a hilly gravel road, I found myself questioning an object standing alongside the road, outside the thick wooded cover. So few people have a reason to be there. At first startled, chills raced down my back. Then excitement and adrenaline at the sight of a huge buck, who stared at me for about 20 seconds before bolting into the trees. He probably was startled to see me, too.

In the pre-dawn darkness, I find myself squinting to make out shadows and outlines – never knowing what I might find as I approach. Perhaps that’s one reason I almost always prefer to run outside.

There are exceptions, though. Weather, specific training effects related to speed work and sometimes, in the winter, just to see other people putting it on the line, too, to improve.

As my journey through training for the New York City Marathon winds down – I officially begin my taper tomorrow – I found myself at the gym this morning. The treadmill workout had a dual purpose – dial in the pace of intervals and escape the wind.

From here until Sunday, Nov. 2, it’s time to dial into a very specific routine to make race day a success.