Like virtually all runners, I hate tapering and I am crap at it. I am currently tapering for the Winter 100 on 18 October, which is my first attempt at the hundred mile distance. I did my last long run last Sunday, two weeks out from the race. 24 hilly miles on the South Downs Way. It went superbly. I felt great. I felt ready. It’s now four days later and I am worrying about phantom niggles, whether I have all the kit for the race, what is going to happen and a thousand other things. And I am not a worrier by nature. What happened?! Taper madness.
I remember my first bout of taper madness like it was yesterday. My first marathon. Berlin in 2008. Natasha (my wife) and I had trained for it, following a plan that recommended a three week taper. Three weeks. I won’t be doing that again. I got nervous. I got bored. I got drunk, because it stopped me getting nervous and bored. I got a cold. I got drunk again. Several times. Unfortunately it didn’t shift the cold, which was still there on race day. Race day was fabulous, but the taper was awful.
After that I vowed that I would never taper for three weeks again. It’s just too much for me. I was a nervous, drunken, cold-ridden wreck after a three week taper. That decision has helped a little as two weeks of nervousness and phantom illnesses and niggles is at least better than three weeks of nervousness and phantom illnesses.
Over the last few years most of my tapers haven’t gone all that well. The Stockholm marathon is a particular highlight (or lowlight). We got there a couple of days before the race – the taper hadn’t gone too badly until then. Alcohol is fiercely expensive in Stockholm. Our hotel had a free bar for two hours every afternoon. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to work out what happened there. Starting a marathon with a hangover is not an experience I would recommend. It really wasn’t pretty.
And did I mention eating? I don’t think I’ve been through a taper yet when I haven’t put on weight. Sometimes a lot. It’s surprising how much you can pile on in two weeks when you aren’t running very much and you’re nervous. Some more tortillas and guacamole to go with that pizza and beer? Why not.
So I am now tapering for the longest race I have ever attempted. I already have a snuffly nose and a niggle (phantom or otherwise) but thankfully I am still sober and haven’t as yet eaten my body weight in pizza, crisps and dry roasted peanuts, so there has apparently been some improvement over the last few years. I am fussing about kit, but at least I am only fussing about gloves and shorts / tights / manpris at the moment. The rest seems just about sorted. For now.
When I line up on the start line a week on Saturday I hope I will have put all this nonsense behind me. This period should be one for quiet reflection. I should be organising everything methodically for the race. Looking back on my training. Learning lessons from it for the future. Preparing mentally. Planning my race. The rational part of me says this is the way to go. The other part of me is running around frantically screaming ‘You’re running 100 miles in a few days! You’re not ready! And why does my knee hurt so much?’