Tapering to a point…
Yesterday was my last longish run before the Hillary, a gentle 12km out and back from home down through Te Puru Park, the Omana Regional Park and along Omana Beach to Te Pene point where the foot track goes on around to Maraetai. It’s a pretty run, mostly coastal, with a nice little piece of mangrove swamp and a bit of bush for a km or so around the back of Omana Park. Once or twice over the years, I’ve seen dolphins close in by Te Pene and once even a pod of Orcas chasing stingrays within 20m of the rocks.
It was the first time in months my weekend ‘long run’ hasn’t involved at least 2 hours of clambering, sliding, hopping, jumping or slithering through bush and over significant elevations on remote tracks a long way from home. For the first time in quite a while I could just run easily for several km, without walking or breaking the flow. It was quite odd really.
In training for this and past events I’ve run this path many times and also gone further around past Maraetai to Umapuia Beach and Duders Park, so it’s very familiar ground and I can just cruise on autopilot. The waypoints are burned into my brain so I don’t even need to look at the GPS watch to know how far or fast I’ve gone, as the km marks tick past.
It was perfect for an easy taper run before next week’s effort and it confirmed for me why I now prefer to run trails whenever I can. The Tamaki Straight was sparkly, the day was beautiful and the run was easy. To sum up, it was all a little bit boring really.
There was nothing unexpected, challenging or particularly interesting that occurred for the entire run, apart from the heat and a mildly annoying aerobic threshold heart rate alarm I’d programmed into my watch and forgotten to disable. There were no exciting marine mammals visible either, except maybe a young Golden Retriever having a good time chasing a soggy tennis ball into the tide. (More ‘excitable’ than ‘exciting’ in this case.)
It did however give me the opportunity as I ran to reflect on the past few months and the lead up to the big day.
The taper is an interesting part of these events. It’s a sort of weird limbo between the intense efforts of training to reach (hopefully) peak race condition and the actual race itself.
It also seems to mean different things to different people. For me, it is a chance to recover from any little niggles that have cropped up in training and get the mind and body in a good place while doing enough exercise to maintain the required fitness through to race day.
The maintenance part can be a bit of a balancing act between doing too much training and not enough. In my case, I’m a bit of a boot camp addict which is great for my general fitness and overall has benefits for my running, but smashing the quads with 200 squats in a ‘kill the legs’ session or pinging a calf muscle in shuttle sprints three days before the race is not really ideal prep for the day, so I’ve had to make myself take a break for a week or so.
The American marathon coach Matt Fitzgerald is of the opinion that the taper should be a decrease in quantity of training mileage, but not in quality or necessarily in intensity. He also notes that weight gain is common during tapering because there is a tendency for us to keep up the same fuel intake as when training to peak, while the actual training load has decreased. So that’s something to look out for.
In general though, for me the taper is the calm before the storm. There is no point worrying any more about whether I’ve done enough training. I’m as ready as I’m going to be and there’s nothing more I can do about that now.
This is a time for checking over the equipment, stretching and resting, focused shorter runs and no less important; eating and sleeping well.
It is also time to get the head in order and not overthink things.
I‘m probably as fit as I’ve ever been, having put in several hundred km of trail and a few thousand metres of elevation in the past 3-4 months and come out the other side injury free and feeling great. I’m still not very fast, but that ought to be enough to see me through to the finish barring illness or injury.
Now the only thing left is to relax and work on the most important aspect of the day for me; enjoying myself. Because it is going to be lot of fun.
Exhilarating, difficult, exhausting and occasionally painful; but I get to spend several hours in the bush doing what I really enjoy with the prospect of a burger and beer at the end.
There are worse ways to spend a Saturday.