The Pains of Taper Madness

Two weeks ago I ran a mess of a 20-miler. I was exhausted, feeling low, and stuck in the mud. I questioned why I keep putting myself through the struggles of marathon training. Running hurts. It takes up all my time. I’m constantly tired and hungry (a combination that never ends well). Then last weekend I remembered why. I tried 20 miles again, this time with a friend. It was pouring rain, but despite the worse conditions, I felt infinitely better. Chatting helped pass the time, and in the inevitable moments when I started to feel low, I had someone by my side to help carry the load and lift me back up.

Though I lost sight of it for a while, my why snapped into focus: I run because it’s fun. Because I love challenging my limits. Because it brings me closer to nature, closer to my community, and closer to friends. I run because I love it.

I was riding such a high from that run that I didn’t fully process some pain in my toes. Between the rain and the cold, I chalked it up to normal long run fatigue mixed with cramping, and kept on pushing. 20 miles isn’t exactly supposed to feel good, but the toe pain lingered throughout the day, and felt worse when I woke up the next morning.

Enter: Taper Madness.

Marathon training is a months long process. Week over week, runners push themselves a bit farther. Both the body and the mind gradually grow accustomed to running longer and longer distances, and then two or three weeks before the race, runners decrease their mileage in order to taper and be fresh to compete.

In theory, this is a flawless plan. In practice, it’s a bit of a mess.

My body likes running, but my mind craves it. I need the physical release and the hours in my head to work through everything else happening in my life. Cutting back on running means cutting down on my biggest outlet, so now all that nervous, anxious energy has nowhere to go.

In some ways, an injury during taper time is as good a time as ever for it to happen. I’m supposed to be resting anyway, all the miles are already banked, and this is just added motivation to take it easy before the race.

But in reality, an injury this close to the race is my personal nightmare. I’ve had laser focus on setting a PR at Eugene, and my training has gone almost entirely according to plan. My Type A self is struggling that these last few weeks are going off the rails. Besides, the race is the fun part, so the thought of missing that final experience after logging all the miles and dealing with all the dark, early mornings makes me quite literally break down and cry.

Marathon training is not for the weak of heart (and also apparently not for the weak of toes).

The pain continued after several days of rest and swimming, so I finally had my foot checked out by a professional. Part of me was convinced this was all in my head, and my nerves for the marathon were manifesting in a phantom injury in my toes. Turns out, the issue is real — real, but minor and solvable. The doctor gave me some homework, and luckily also the clearance to do a small amount gentle running.

I don’t know how my body will hold up, and I don’t know if I have enough time to fully recover before Eugene. For months I’ve been training with a dream time in mind, and now with just two weeks to go, I can feel it slipping away.  

So now I need to rely on faith. Faith that all is not lost. Faith that my body can handle this. Faith that I won’t forget how to run just because I’m doing it less often. Faith that I won’t lose months of work over the course of two weeks. Faith that my training is enough.  Faith that I am enough. And if the worst case scenario happens and I’m not able to safely run the race I’ve trained so hard for, then I’ll need to have faith that after a good long cry, I can try again at a different marathon later.

My body is strong, but also fragile, and I’m learning to navigate that delicate place between the two. I can’t do everything, but I can do some — and if I’m smart, that some will get me to 26.2.

One thought on “The Pains of Taper Madness

  1. Pingback: The Long Run

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