That’s the big question right now. With only two weeks left, most people who know that I’ve been training for Boston have started asking if I’m ready. Of course, that’s a question I’ve been asking myself too.
My responses to everyone – including myself – is that I am as ready as I’m going to be and I hope I’ve done enough training. What more can I do at this point? The hay is in the barn, as they say. Hard workouts between now and race day might make me feel more in control but can only result in fatigue.
The truth is that I won’t be really ready until race day. I still have two weeks of tapering between now and then. This is the marathon equivalent of the icing-on-the-cake; it is of critical importance to a successful marathon.
What is tapering?
Tapering is runner-speak for winding down the training for a long distance event.
You might think that this is a welcome break from the intense distances I’ve been running, but in reality it isn’t that easy. After spending months pushing myself through hard intervals and long indoor treadmill sessions, I’m a little terrified to take my foot off the gas pedal, especially so close to the actual day.
There’s the fear of somehow losing my ability to complete the distance. There’s the fact that I have been able to eat absolutely anything in any quantity for months and I will now have to curtail that if I want to continue wearing anything in my closet. There’s brain chemistry, which I’ve gotten used to managing through intense exercise (yay endorphins!).
Then why taper?
Tapering is primarily an exercise in rest. Months of training depletes muscle glycogen stores and temporarily damages muscle tissue. Resting provides an opportunity for your muscles to repair themselves while you refill their glycogen tanks (carb loading). You need this glycogen reserve to get through the second half of the marathon, and you will most certainly notice if it isn’t there.
Another reason the taper is so important is that you need time for mental preparation. Your mind needs a break from the training and also needs some time to prepare for the big effort.
What to do while you can’t run as much
In my experience, the first couple of days in a taper are not much of a change. I usually just feel like it’s any other rest day between runs. However, after a few consecutive rest days I start brooding. Right now, the successful 21-miler (10 days ago) feels like a distant memory, and race day is still 12 days from now. Questions like, “how can I just sit here while I lose strength and gain weight?” play in my head on repeat while I wait for the day on the training plan that allows me a 7-mile run. My mind kicks into constant chatter about all of the potential race day scenarios and/or disasters (e.g. weather, wardrobe, health, injury) over which I have little or no control. I can control some things, and I’m trying to focus my energy on those instead of running.
The three most important things to focus on during these last two weeks are SLEEP, NUTRITION, and HYDRATION. Getting 8 hours of sleep every night will give me the best shot at a well-rested race day. Incremental carb-loading (increasing my daily carbs slightly over two weeks) will provide glycogen to my muscles that I’ll rely on after the first two hours of the race. Hydration is important for every bodily function, but key here is its contribution in maintaining muscle glycogen.
While I’m resting, I’ll probably get my race day outfit together, come up with an overall logistical plan for Marathon weekend, and maybe even do some knitting!