Tapering Begins: Cutting Back Mileage, Being Patient and Trusting my Body

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I honestly cannot believe I’ve reached this point in marathon training. I would think about this moment. Of hitting my longest mileage and then knowing all that lie ahead was a month of preparing in a different way. Of tapering down. Of pulling back. Of trying not to go crazy with nerves and excitement.

But here I am, heading into the first week of tapering (for reference – tapering is the last 3 to 4 weeks before a marathon where you decrease mileage after hitting your maximum) and I’m feeling so many emotions. Running means more to me than I know how to explain and it was my mom who thankfully helped me remember that I run for something bigger than myself and my love of this sport.

I was texting her in the midst of a mini freak-out as I tried to finalize the last month of my training plan. How far should I taper down to? Is 4 weeks too many weeks? Should I just do another super long run to make sure I’m ready (the answer is NO)? Am I ready (the answer is YES)?!

She told me to repeat the following mantra – “I. Will. Rock. This. Marathon” – and to trust in my plan, the research I’ve done on tapering and in myself. She reminded me of how well I ran 22 miles. She reminded me that running is a mental sport for me. She reminded me that my body has withstood so much more than I imagined during training. Indirectly, she also reminded me of why I run. I discussed this in a post after my third half marathon last summer, but I run because it was the reason I was, and still am, able to cope with my grief and emotions after my friend was killed my freshman year of college. I run for him. And that made the nerves lessen. This race isn’t just about me, my love of running and accomplishing this goal, it’s about honoring him and showing myself how far I’ve come.

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That aside, going into tapering is still nerve wracking beyond belief. It’s just so counterintuitive to know I’m getting closer to the marathon every day, but then to be cutting down on my long-run mileage and leg workouts (YES I've still been training legs - it's so helpful during training!).

At the beginning of marathon training I read a lot about tapering as I was trying to create my own training plan (because I’m high maintenance and didn’t like any of the plans enough that I found on the internet) and heard all about “taper madness.” AKA how anxious, nervous and excited you get and how you start questioning everything and how it’s like a constant rollercoaster of emotions… I was like “yeah, sure, crazy people. That won’t happen to me.” Oh how wrong I was. I’ve only done my first long run of tapering and I’m already going a little crazy!!!

But I also know how vastly important tapering is. Honestly, it may be the most important part of training. Yes, it’s important to grind hard during the weeks and months you put into training. And yes, it’s important to hit your long runs each week. But it’s also important to give your body the proper rest and recovery it needs to perform well.

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(100% addicted to Mikey's original paleo English muffins and 100% okay with it. Topped with Artisana Organics cashew butter, figs and avocado? Even more addicting.)

And let me tell you. I’ve been TIRED lately. Downright burnt out. Like dragging my feet, can hardly keep my eyes open in class when it gets to Friday kind of burnt out. And this never happens to me… Even my mom on the phone was like whoa… you don’t get tired like that. I’ve always been a go go go kind of person. I get eight hours of sleep almost every night, I drink a ton of water, I eat healthy as can be, I’m active… This usually gives me so much natural energy (plus my morning coffee) that I’m bouncing off the walls most days. But marathon training has taken it out of me. I still feel strong and energetic most days (like today – YAY!), but more days than usual I’m having to reach for coffee one too many times and am still exhausted when I crawl into bed at 9:30 p.m. (holla at that grandma life). I’ve used this as a reminder to fuel my body like crazy. I swear I haven’t gone 2 hours without eating (besides when I’m sleeping) these last few months. I’ve also used it as a reminder to listen to my body. Some days my training plan has said I "need" to run 7 or 8 miles and I stop at 5 because my body is just like, NOPE. And that’s okay! Marathon training is highly personal and I believe it doesn’t have to be so structured that it drives you insane. As long as I was hitting my long runs and running them strongly and feeling good about them, then that’s what mattered most.

But that tiredness? That’s how I know tapering is going to be so, so beneficial.

The point of tapering is to give your body the rest and time to recover that it needs before having to power through 26.2 miles (wow I just got SO excited typing that). Because training is so intense and you’re running so many miles each week your body gets more and more fatigued because it never truly has the time to come back fully from each week’s long run, even with rest days worked in. The high mileage ran each week lowers your levels of not only muscle glycogen, but also enzymes, antioxidants and hormones. Tapering allows these levels to climb back up AND it helps boost your immune system.

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(Told you I was obsessed with Mikey's...)

Tapering is the time to baby your body and take extra good care of yourself. I’m going to make sure I’m stretching every night and morning, rolling my muscles out consistently, icing anything and everything if it even hurts a little, eating bunches of high quality food, hydrating like mad… you get the idea. That’s another thing I’ll address at another time – training for a marathon while being on SCD. So many people questioned how this would go and honestly I wasn’t so sure myself. But I knew I needed to stick with SCD to help my body heal (read more about this here) and I knew I wasn’t going to stop training. Carbo-loading is so prevalent in the fitness industry, but it truly isn’t an end-all be-all tactic.

Tapering is also the time to be patient. I realized I’m so nervous and excited about the marathon that I keep wanting it to be here NOW. I want to skip tapering (because it’s driving me crazy) and get to it because I feel capable of running that far right this second. But I know this process is important and I need to be patient with myself. I need to trust in the work I’ve put in and trust in the training schedule.

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(Two-ingredient pancakes are the BEST. Just a banana and two eggs and you've got yourself this tasty plate. Add in a side of my creamy coconut turmeric latte and it's bound to be a good morning.)

For me, tapering is also a time to reflect. As I near the end of training, I can’t help but get kind of sad. Training has become such a big part of my life – I love Tuesdays where I get to run for hours on end and feel SO accomplished once I’m done, I love knowing I’m working towards a big goal, I love the anticipation of it all and the hard work and everything else about it. I’m that crazy running girl that just loves running so freaking much that it actually bums me out to think I won’t get to run 20 miles every Tuesday anymore after the race. Yeah. I’m weird. ;)

I saw a quote once that said something to the degree of “try training for a marathon and not having it change your life” and I’ve never read something so true. This process has honestly changed my life and I’m excited to see how tapering, although it’s going to test me, will change it too.

I can’t believe in less than a month I’ll be crossing that finish line just like I’ve dreamed about for so many years. Life is so so GOOD.

XO nat

Related: Marathon Training Taper Week Tips, Conquering 26.2: An Inside Look at my First Marathon Experience