The Taper Monster

…There’s not much you can do in the last few weeks to improve your performance, but there’s a lot you can do to mess it up.
– Ben Hurley, Marathon Tapering Tips: Why The Last Two Weeks Matter

I hate tapering.

For the uninitiated, “the taper” is a period of reduced activity in the weeks leading up to a major sporting event.  It is most typically associated with marathoning, but a variety of endurance and sprint athletes employ this method of calculated rest-before-race in their training.  For most marathoners, the taper period lasts 2-3 weeks, and follows the Last Long Run.  The taper is where runners strategically reduce their mileage; reduce the frequency and intensity of their workouts, and let their muscles repair before the Main Event.

Some people don’t believe in The Taper.  When I was a baby runner, I thought the whole thing was stupid.  But now that I am a more experienced runner, I really do get it.

Also, this year, I will be running the most important Marathon of my life and I will be running injured.  So this taper is maybe the most important taper I have ever tapered.

The injury itself is something I’m not yet willing to discuss (this is a long, involved discussion for AFTER the Marathon), but suffice it to say, it’s serious enough to be serious, but manageable enough where my treatment team is committed to getting me to Tavern on the Green.

Mostly, they are committed to The Finish since they know that they won’t be able to keep me from running.  But also, they are committed because they are some of the most elite sports rehab professionals this side of the East River and they love this kind of shit.

But the point I am trying to make is not about injury.  The point is that there is a point to tapering, and even if there is a point, I still hate it.

And part of the point is that you do reach a point where there’s nothing more you can do in training.  No more running the Queensboro Bridge; no more tempo runs; no more speedwork — nothing is going to contribute to your preparedness for the race.  The only thing it will do is harm you; increase your risk of injury; fatigue you.

These things are easy to write down, and easy to conceptualise on paper, but they are almost impossible to believe in real-time.

For me, a lot of running of it is achievement-driven, and tick-box focused, and these last few weeks when I’m supposed to be Sitting in Stillness dredge up a lot of the horrible not good enough feelings that are sometimes the spark that got me running in the first place.

This brings me back to my Yuppie Asshole Yoga Practice.

When I was in Thailand last Christmas, diligently studying yoga with an insane ex-equities trader Irishman who had given up Wall Street for India and then Koh Samui and was forcing me to spend hours each day just listening to the ocean and my own breathing, before doing sun salutations till I wanted to punch someone…I didn’t necessarily get it.  I didn’t necessarily understand at the time that Stillness is one of the most important parts of the activity.

I’ve written about this before, but, in yoga, we repeatedly come back to tadasana or Mountain Pose — standing stillness — to center ourselves and put the postures into perspective.  To catch our breath.

This had occurred to me in Hong Kong, earlier this year, as I was doing sleepless night yoga on the floor of my dreadful room at the Mandarin Landmark on the day before my brother called me to tell me that he was going to run the marathon with me.  But I didn’t necessarily connect that moment to this moment. 

Until now.

What I have to do is appreciate the stillness of tapering.  I have to take this moment to breathe; to re-center; to prepare for the next phase of the practice; to refocus.

I have always looked at tapering as an irritation; an antsy, anxious time leading up to the race.  But now, I am trying to really understand the stillness as a fundamental part of the activity itself.  I am trying not to be distracted by my friends who race-to-exhaustion and boast about their PRs; I am trying not to be focused on Things That Are Extraneous to This Moment, Right Here, Right Now.

This Moment is the one in which I am running my 13th Marathon with my little brother, who is running his 1st Marathon.  This Moment is the one in which I am running 26.2 miles with the brother I almost lost to his addiction.

This is the Moment I want to slow down; stand still in; enjoy.  This is the Moment I don’t want to mess up.

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