TITLE: Thoughts as I Begin My Taper AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: October 11, 2007 1:35 PM DESC: ----- BODY: 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 body. 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 the fastest. (Negative splits!) 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! -----