TITLE: Thoughts as I Begin My Taper
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: October 11, 2007 1:35 PM
My taper into the
Marine Corps Marathon
has begun. Last week ended with a 25.5-mile long run,
my longest training run in preparation for the race, for
a total of 60 miles in the week, my longest week.
Time was of no concern to me on this long run. My mileage
build-up has taken longer this year than the past few,
coming out of a winter and spring that curtailed both my
mileage and my speed. On Sunday, the weather was my
friend as much as it could be, with the sun spending much
of the morning moving in and out of the clouds. That kept
temperatures in the upper 70s F., unlike what my brethren
racing in Chicago and the Twin Cities faced.
I knew early in this run, by mile 6 or so, that I didn't
"have it" this day, and that finishing would be a matter
of perseverance, not triumph. I was not surprised. The
gods of progress were penurious this year, so I've never
quite reached the level of comfort going either long or
fast that I have reached in recent years. That may well
turn out to be a good thing. In past years, I ran a lot
of miles going into my race and probably had worn my body
out. I also probably peaked too soon, on one of the long
training runs weeks before. This year, I will be undertrained
rather than overtrained, and relatively rested rather than
relatively spent. Veteran marathoners tell me this is good.
The body can be ready.
I suppose that my taper began on Monday, but I had no reason
to notice until Wednesday, when I did my first track workout
of the week. Instead of ten miles, I ran eight. It was a
legitimate workout -- 6x800m followed by 2.5 miles at my
ambitious marathon goal pace -- but it ended two miles sooner.
It's amazing what two fewer miles can do (or not do) to the
The primary purpose of the taper is to
let the body recover
from the hard work it has done in recent weeks and to
consolidate the gains it has made during training. One of
the training goals of the taper is focus on the quality of
every run, rather than on the cross-product of quantity x
quality. By running only eight miles on the track, I can
concentrate on speed, whether a target speed for the intervals
or the steady goal pace of my other miles. My 800m repeats
are still not where they were last fall (3:11-3:13), but I did
run six solid repeats at 3:16 or so, with the last two being
My Tuesday and Thursday runs this week have still been slow,
but I expect that by next week my body will be ready to take
every run seriously.
Earlier, I mentioned my "ambitious marathon goal pace".
By this I do not mean that I have set an ambitious goal
pace for myself. Rather, I mean that I have two goal paces,
an ambitious one and a less ambitious one. Indeed, my
ambitious goal is exactly the same goal pace I've had the
last two years, 8:00 per mile. I know that I have this in
me somewhere, as I have maintained that pace well for long
training runs the past two years and through 19 and 21 miles
of my last two marathons, respectively. Whenever I have run
"marathon pace" miles in training this year, I have run
8-minute miles. And I have run as many marathon pace miles
as possible, especially on the track after doing my
scheduled repeats. I want to prepare my body for what it
feels to run this pace while tired and maybe even sore.
My less ambitious pace is 8:30 per mile. If I were to
finish my race averaging this pace, I would have every reason
to feel good about my day. So I have been preparing my mind
to think about both paces. One thing I will do these next
couple of weeks is to decide on a race strategy. At various
times this summer, I have considered planning to run the
first X miles of the race at 8:30/mile, where X ranges from
5 to 16, and then deciding whether I feel strong enough to
try to finish at 8:00/mile. My ultimate plan will depend
some on race conditions that day, but the real question is
where my confidence lies, both in my mind and in my body.
One good thing about running lots of miles at an 8:00 pace:
Running an 8:30 pace feels great!