The Dreaded Taper

Today I ran my last workout of my 2010 cross country season. I will do some strides/turnover work on Thursday, but this was my last true workout leading up to the Canadian cross country championships. After finishing my shift at work in Newmarket, I ran north on the Tom Taylor Trail to the Rogers Reservoir Conservation Area to do some intervals. I battled a fierce, cold headwind and a muddy path for a while and then, it was over. I only have a few easy runs to do in between now and Saturday. That’s right, it’s time for the dreaded taper. In fact, I am well into my taper at this point. Like any obsessive runner, I have a love-hate relationship with tapering. It’s great to feel fresh on race day, but to achieve this, one must switch off one’s obsessive and fanatical training tendencies.

Every university cross country season, the “no taper until November” principle has been one of my basic tenets. I would always say it when people talked about reducing their volume for races like the Queen’s Open or, heaven forbid, the Western International (in September, folks. September.) I was perfectly willing to work hard and keep the volume high throughout September and October. However, the other half of this rule is that in November, one must actually taper. No more ninety minute runs on weekdays. No more sneaking in extra mileage after workouts by doing a super-long cool down (not that I actually did that… forget it, I’m not saying any more on the topic!) And no more hundred-mile weeks. Wow, I miss those already.

Now, in the style of a Rob Watson blog, I will tell you one of those “this is how stupid I was in university” stories. Sadly, it does not involve injuries sustained while drunk. Rewind to my third year. I was having a great cross country season (2nd at the Western International, 1st at Queen’s Open, and 1st at some useless third-tier meet in the states that I won’t even mention). I was running 80 miles per week, which at the time was the highest amount of mileage I had been able to do consistently. Also important to this story is the fact that our team used an online training log to keep track of our mileage, and we could see each other’s daily training. So, it’s a Saturday morning, one week out from the OUA championships. It’s a nice sunny day out at Fort Henry hill, everyone is fired up, and I…have a disaster of a workout. I can’t remember what the workout was, but I was slogging along the course, way behind the entire team. I was pulled out of the workout about halfway through. My thought process at this point was “oh no! if I don’t complete the workout, I’ll be two miles behind everyone else for the day! I’d better do an extra-long cool down to compensate.” So I ran around for a while on the hill while everyone finished their workout, then I ran back to campus with the women, and then I added ten or fifteen more minutes on my own. By the time I was back at home, I had run something ridiculous like a 60 minute cool down (and this was on top of a 25 minute warm up and a couple intervals, all on a day where I was feeling terrible).

That afternoon, I was all ready to go out for another run when I got an email from one Robert Kitz. He had seen my entry for the day on our team’s online mileage log and proceeded to kindly inform me that I was being an idiot (he was very civil about it; I’m just paraphrasing) and that I ought to reduce my mileage instead of continuing my obsessive-compulsive stupidity and running myself into the ground before the championships. I heeded his advice, went into taper-mode, felt great on race day, and went on to finish third at the OUA championships and fifth at the CIS championships.

So there you have it: my anecdote demonstrating that tapering works. Of course, everyone knows this already. The hard part is putting the theory into practice. Cutting down the morning run from forty minutes to twenty-five. Axing a few doubles because if you run twice a day, your mileage will simply be too high. Resisting the urge to tack on twenty or thirty minutes to make it a ten-miler because your legs feel so fresh. It’s tough to go through this when one is used to training hard and logging anywhere from twelve to seventeen miles a day, every day, for weeks on end. Yet on race day, it’s all worth it when you’re fresh, rested, and itching to unleash everything you’ve been holding back for the past few weeks.

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