The torture of the marathon taper

  • This was printed in March of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 44th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

If you thought marathoners were crazy for running 26.2 miles for fun, let me tell you

what’s really crazy: Me, the week before the marathon.

Especially this marathon.

On Sunday I’ll run my third 26.2-miler, the Modesto Marathon, with the hope of

qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I must cross the finish line within 3 hours and 35

minutes to BQ, which means I must run faster than an 8:12 per mile pace.

I have it this time. I know I do. I’ve trained harder than ever. I feel stronger and faster

than ever. I’m injury-free and mentally a smarter racer than I was in November at the

Two Cities Marathon in Fresno, where I finished in 3:53.

Now I just need to get to the starting line.

Marathon training comes to an end and tapering begins at least a week before the race.

The taper is supposed to be a time of rest, relaxation and carb-loading. Some running is

involved, but not much. Mileage and intensity is greatly reduced to allow for “fresh legs”

the morning of the race.

During a marathon the body fuels itself mostly on stored carbs, not protein or fat, so it’s

advised in the days leading up to the race to scale back on fats and proteins and replace

those calories with carbohydrates. This doesn’t mean just pasta and bread; fruits and

vegetables are carbohydrates too.

I’ve got the taper down pat — almost. I’m relaxing more and getting slightly more sleep,

which is a very hard thing to do when you have two young children. Carbs are my best

friends. My problem is that I can’t mentally relax. I think I must have swallowed a

leprechaun on St. Patty’s Day because I’m sure I feel it doing back flips and karate kicks

in my stomach every time I think about this race — which is often.

Truthfully, I’ve been agonizing over this race for the past several weeks. During my long

runs I replay visions in my head (dreams? daydreams?) of every possible outcome.

In one vision I pass the Mile 26 marker, the finish line .2 miles ahead, and see the huge

red time clock numbers reading 3:33:33 and ticking away. I try to calculate how much

time I have left to run two tenths of a mile and still qualify for Boston. Then I calculate

what my pace must be to get there in time. The numbers on the clock are running as I

inch closer and closer to that line, finally crossing at the last possible second — 3:34:59.

Did I really make it? Did I qualify? I have to wait until the official results are posted

before finding out.

In another vision I breeze past the finish line, hands victoriously stretched above my

head. The finish line photographer captures the glorious moment with me in the

foreground and the time clock reading 3:30:10 in the background. Qualified with time to


In another vision I’ve already completed the race in a Boston qualifying time, but I’m

searching frantically for my Madera running buddy Audrey Crow, who is also likely to

qualify in Modesto. My cutoff time is 3:35 while hers is 3:55, due to our age division

differences. As my eyes scan the runners coming down the finishing stretch, I spot

Audrey and then immediately turn my eyes to the clock. 3:54:01. Run Audrey! SPRINT!

You have to do this! I’m screaming at the top of my lungs, tears and desperation in my


In another scenario my hamstring cramps in the last 10 meters of the race. I try to move

toward the finish line but I can’t. My muscle is bulging with the worst Charlie horse

known to man. I look at the clock — 3:34:05 — and then glance around me for race

officials. Can I crawl? Is that allowed? I drop to a three-legged bear crawl until my other

leg cramps up. Then I use my almost non-existent upper body strength to drag myself

toward the line, finally collapsing and rolling myself across it. I stop rolling face up and

look at the clock. 3:35:01. Did I make it?

Stay tuned and I’ll let you know how the marathon actually plays out. Wish me luck!


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