It's sort of amazing how after 15 weeks of slowly building up the mileage to run the marathon, you then have to start scaling it back to actually run the marathon.
Tapering is just part of the process, and there are a lot of people who have trouble with it. It's even spawned it's own affliction..."Taper Madness". That's where you spend the three weeks from the 20-miler to race day worrying about every little thing. Did I train enough? How are my shoes? What should I wear?
Which leads into: "What about the weather?"
It's common to feel that way, especially the first time someone runs a marathon, and I went through it too. The biggest worry is how you can get a 26.2 mile run out of a 20-mile long run. Race day magic? Some say, but I don't believe that. We only do about a dozen long runs of any significance (not counting step-backs and the taper weeks), the distance from 20 until the end comes from the runs done during the week. If you have done the mileage during the week -- especially the midweek intermediate run -- you will be fine. Everything matters, and that's why it has been able to work.
To paraphrase something the great Hal Higdon says...millions of people have used these training programs to get to the finish line, why do you think it won't work for you?
Since I read that line in one of his columns years ago, my feeling has been this: I've done all I can, now the only thing left in my control is lining up and running.
It is nice to have all of my pre-race rituals down pat -- and yes I'll remember my shorts on race day -- because that's one less thing to worry about. I will say, about the only thing I worry about is the weather, but only to a point, because, again, it's something I can't control.
I mean, I've run the Chicago Marathon when it was 40 degrees (a couple of times) and when it was in the 80s (2007-08). Maybe you wear some different clothes (like a sleveless vs. a regular shirt) adjust your tactics a little, like if it's going to be hot you run slower and drink more, but in the end, the race is the race. So I'll start keeping track of the weather a few days out, so I can decide what I'm going to wear and start visualizing the race I want to run, but that's about the extent of my madness.
Because no matter the weather, the race is 26.2 miles long and you have to complete it. While conditions may change, that doesn't. So you don't worry about it. You respect it like crazy, but don't worry about it.
It's just a matter of trust. You have to trust you've done the training to get ready (you have) and that if it is your first time you have learned enough and asked enough questions.If you have done that, the race is less overwhelming. I ran close to a dozen races in the 10 months prior to my first marathon, and gained experience with big crowds, hydrating, stretching, rituals and other things I knew I was going to need.
I remember standing at the starting line for the 2000 Chicago Marathon and looking at the skyline and thinking "I've got this". Once I got into the start corral, instead of my anxiety going sky-high, like it does for many, I experienced a real feeling of calmness come over me. Because I realized at that moment, on October 22, 2000, it was about to happen, whether I was ready or not. I felt confident because I thought I had done enough. Thankfully, I had a great day and achieved all of my goals, but the key was getting into a good mental place.
Leading up to that race I'd had some serious IT band issues that caused me to miss two weeks of running in August, and I had missed quite a few runs as my son Kevin had been born about five weeks before the race. Not only that, my 20 miler was a disaster. I ran it along the Lakefront and it was hot and windy. I think I took over four hours to complete the run (and I finished the race in 4:28).
Not only that, I was working three jobs at the time and over the course of the previous two nights I'd gotten a total of about six hours of sleep. But at that point, it mattered not, it was just time to run.So I did.
That's the beauty of the sport...you just run! I grew up playing so many other sports (baseball, football, basketball, soccer, golf) that had so many moving parts that I've found running is beautiful because it's simple. You aren't having something hurled at you at 80 miles an hour, I'm not trying to get off a jump shot with a hand in my face, or trying to hit a ball over a pond to a target four inches wide sitting 150 yards away. It's just putting one foot in front of the other, and not stopping until they tell you to.
Man, if you look at it that way, it's kind of empowering. It's not very often that we get total control like that over our destiny. My race is completely up to me. That's just awesome, isn't it? It's also why I've tried to get my two boys involved in the sport, because it's just so pure. None of this "the coach's kid gets to be running back" or "the popular kids get to start:". You are who you are. Fastest runners run. That's it.
I so wish I had thought of that when I was younger, but oh well, I'm glad to have discovered it now. I'll take to the line with confidence on October 13th because I know so far I've completed 56 of the 61 scheduled runs, and that I've done this seven times before, in both the best and worst conditions. I believe in myself because I know that in order to be successful at this, that's the way it has to be.
So while the taper is about coming down in mileage and resting, it's also about working on a focus that by race day should be laser-like. This is when we get to find our inner athlete, our inner Kenyan. This is when we get to find out if we have what it takes to run a marathon. It's not easy, because if it were, everyone could do it.
You know what? This is when the fun starts!