The agony of tapering

It’s taper time, meaning I will drive everyone around me bonkers for the next three weeks.

That is, if my head doesn’t explode first.

I’ve always thought tapering was the most agonizing part of marathon training. After months of hard training, you’re suddenly forced to pull way back on weekly mileage to save your legs for race day.

Whenever I go through this phase, I have to figure out what to do with all my nervous energy.

I can’t run 40-50 miles a week any more. I have to just sit around, thinking about the race.

I imagine it’s how a lawyer must feel after his case has gone to the jury. The lawyer can’t do anything but wait. And wonder. And worry.

The lawyer thinks: Will I win or lose?

The runner thinks: Will I set a PR or blow up at mile 24?

Yes, taper time is when your mind races through all the excruciating possibilities.

A few years ago, during the final week of marathon tapering, I was so keyed up that my legs were shaking and twitching as I sat at my desk.

It was a tough few days, but on race day, I ended up running my best marathon ever, in 3:40. So I guess that was a good taper, even though it felt like hell at the time.

And then there’s the other side of the coin.

Five years ago, while training for a spring marathon, I did my last long run during a rainstorm. I got so cold and wet that I caught a nasty cold that I couldn’t shake. I was sick in bed for two or three days.  I felt drained.

By the next weekend, when my schedule called for me to run 10 miles, I could barely shuffle through five. The following weekend, I was supposed to run six miles, but still felt like crap. I was mainlining Robitussin and aspirin. My tapering was going in the wrong direction. It was the first time I ever had to scale UP for my last taper run.

On marathon day, I had the worst race of my life. I shuffled and stumbled and walked to the finish line, still coughing and hacking. I racked up my slowest marathon ever, 4:32.

So here we are again. It’s taper time. Will I have a good marathon or a lousy marathon?

The one saving grace to this particular marathon is I am not pushing myself to set a PR. This is just a way to reintroduce myself to road marathons after nearly three years on trails.

So I’m not setting a time goal. I’m not going to wear a watch. It’s just a 26.2 mile run, for the fun of it.

The real battle of nerves will come this fall, when I push myself for a PR and BQ.

So for now, I’m going to try to enjoy it — if I don’t have a breakdown first.


I kicked off my taper today by running an easy four miles in about 35 minutes. I ran on the towpath at lunchtime.

I was expecting a real mudfest. It rained for hours yesterday. But the trail was very runnable — just a few puddles here and there.

Tomorrow, I plan to do a tempo run, six miles at a brisk pace.


This little blog gives me an outlet to blather about running and other nonsense.

But lest you, dear reader, think I don’t have a serious side to my writing, I am happy to set the record straight.

Over the weekend, the Society of Professional Journalists (Indiana chapter) held its annual journalism awards banquet.

Trail Boy scooped up four statewide awards in the large newspaper division, including first place and honorable mention for spot news, first place for medical/science reporting and second place for business writing. Not a bad haul.

Now if I only had a Boston Marathon medal to hang on the wall. That’s next!


6 Responses to “The agony of tapering”

  1. Yeah congrats!! and buy a rocking chair and rock a hole in your carpet while trying to relax during the taper! Boston is next.

  2. Congrats on all the rewards – how cool!
    Tapering is tough!
    But I must say, I do like a short run!

  3. Those SPJ awards are a big effing deal, as my favorite vice president would say. Congratulations! As for the tapering dilemma, I can’t relate. Feeling sorry for you because you can’t run ridiculous distances? Sorry. Good luck with the race.

  4. justrunhappy Says:

    Wahoo my running slut!! Proud of your accomplishments friend!!! Hope your tapering is going well??? No nervous breakdowns or illness this round!!! …and please, don’t take your keys with you on the run in Cleveland! LOL!! Looking fwd to trail running with you…I’ll tell the Foxes you said hi!

    • Hey, I only dropped the keys twice during Cleveland Marathon 2007! But this time, I will hide them somewhere and run empty-handed. Have fun with the Foxes!

  5. I run too many races and/or just don’t have the patience to taper properly. Next weekend will be my last long run before the May 30th marathon, then I should taper, but instead the following weekend I’ll be running a trail half marathon. Oh well, it’s all just for fun anyway.

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