Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Magic Taper

Coach Chaim's, from Al Derech Burma, introduction to Taper Mode:

Ahhh......the Magic Taper.

The mere sound of the phrase rolling off the tongue is soothing balm to the runner's aching muscles. Well, my friends, we are there. After last week's final long run, the hay is in the barn and you are officially declared marathon ready. All you need to do now is recover, maintain your peak fitness and stay healthy.

Although we gradually reduce the mileage during the taper, we do not reduce the intensity of the runs until the final week. Marathoners need to continuously be reassured that they have not lost fitness and, by reminding the body how to run fast, we will both maintain peak fitness and soothe our fragile psyches. Incidentally, there is nothing you can do in terms of workouts at this stage to get fitter. What you can do is properly target the appropriate zones in the reduced mileage that we will be doing and to get plenty of rest.

It is critical that you understand that hard training merely produces the stimulus to adapt to a new level. However, the actual adaption to a new level transpires during rest. What this means is that without the proper rest, you will not reap the benefits of the amazing training season that we just completed. The trick with tapering is to do the minimum possible volume without losing peak fitness. Resist the urge to do more than the carefully crafted schedule calls for.

As you read this, we are a mere sixteen days from the 35th Tiberias Marathon and it is an appropriate time for a little reflection. Yes, the marathon is an undeniably incredible experience. For many, it is nothing short of a life altering event where one redefines the scope of the possible in arenas far beyond the athletic.

I always envy first-timers the incomparable sense of euphoria as they cross the finish line for the first time. But whether January 6th is your first or your fifteenth marathon, you deserve to revel in what you have already accomplished. This marathon is not merely a race that will last between three and six hours. It is an odyssey that has demanded of you nearly superhuman dedication for more than one third of a year. You have woken up at ungodly hours to run distances more appropriately traveled by freight trucks, gasped through lung searing interval sessions, dragged yourself out on the road in the heat and the cold while the rest of humanity slouched on the couch and accused you of being an obsessive lunatic.

In so doing, you have transformed yourself into a hero and I am not truly not waxing hyperbolic when I say this. Any time someone transcends mediocrity by the sweat of his (or her) brow, that person has done something genuinely heroic. Most of us are simply programmed to do what our peers are doing. You, on the other hand, through sheer determination and tenacity, have become a testament to what a human being can accomplish should he choose to do so.

You are now capable of running 42,195 meters, a staggering distance by any measure. And frankly, it does not matter one whit whether you cross that finish line in Tiberias in 2:57 or 5:57, you will have transcended your physical limitations in a way that an infinitesimal portion of the human race will ever do in their lifetime. 

And while personal records and milestones are worthy goals that should be savored, it would be a serious, perhaps even tragic error to assume that they are more significant than what you have already acomplished over the past eighteen weeks.

On marathon day, naturally, we will all shoot for the stars. We will obsess about pacing, gels, isotonic drinks, negative splits and a plethora of other details that make the marathon as much of a mental challenge as a physical one. But if, by some unhappy stroke of bad luck, the weather turns against us, or you come down with a bit of a cold or you simply don't have your best stuff on that partcular morning, know this, truly know it and do not merely console yourself with it:

You have already reached the stars.

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