Seebo's Run

A running commentary on my training and whatever else emerges from that.

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Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tapering & Pondering

Tapers are never easy. One big question that vexes me, as well as many others, is how much to taper so that one is well rested but doesn't get stale. Another question that really has no good answer is whether it is true that you don't really gain or lose fitness with what you do in the last three weeks before a marathon. There is no empirical evidence I'm aware of that informs this issue, so all we have left is alot of folklore. Folklore particular to marathon runners. For if you can't get anymore fit in the three weeks before a marathon, it would stand to reason that you couldn't gain any more fitness in the three weeks before, say, a 5k. Yet no one tapers that much before a 5k.

What makes it even more confusing is the different things different coaches and "experts" recommend for doing a taper. A guy posted on the Philly Runners message board that a Jack Daniels program is having him run a 10k at full race pace as part of a marathon taper. WTF? Greg McMillan, who I briefly enlisted as a coach several years back, liked to throw in tougher workouts to "rev the engine." Cool concept, but is it beneficial? Others, mostly women, are hesitant to cut down on their mileage for fear of gaining weight. All this seems to go against the spirit of the taper. And indeed, after months of doing more, it is hard now to do less.

In such a vacuum of information, I have learned to take it by feel. Take conventional wisdom, no matter how contradictory, under advisement and in the end do what seems to work for me. I wanted to go out to the track today, but I just don't see any point in running jelly-legged hyperventilating repeats. I do enough of those in a training cycle, and they really don't fit well with the psychology of the marathon, which calls for a more tortoise-like, slow and steady approach. So instead I figured that today I'd do an extended marathon pace workout. Here I could still get the speed up to where it would give me a good workout, but would work on my ability to keep pace, to feel comfortable while going at an elevated speed, rather than looking to boldly go where Seebo has not gone in a long time.

So I warmed up by running down to Franklin Field and ran 10,000 meters around the track. I aimed for 6 consecutive 1600 splits at marathon pace (6:07) and then, as a reward, the last 400 meters as fast as I could go. For the first two 1600s I checked my watch every 400m and ran fast, 5:55 and 6:05. For the second two 1600s I checked my watch every 800m and clocked even 6:07s. For the last two I checked my watch only at the end of the 1600 and did a 6:02 and then a 6:11. Then I reassured myself that I had plenty left in the tank by doing a 77 second 400. I could have done another one. So it was 10,000 meters in 37:44. 32,000 more meters of that would get me a good marathon time.

This is an entirely different way of thinking than the usual track repeats, because I worry about going both too slow and too fast. Holding pace is physically not a challenge, its all mental. I tend to fight harder with the demons who taunt me about going too slow. As a result I go too fast. Not good in a marathon.

So, decidedly mixed results today, and I'll look to get me some more marathon pace workouts in this taper. It feels right - keeping my legs sharp and gearing up my mind for the steady splits I'll need. 26 of them. And then take off for the last point-two!

10 miles total in 74:52.


Blogger Kevin said...

I would think that you might gain some fitness during those last three weeks, but it would be offset by fatigue. Maintaining 70/week while marathon training is a different story from maintaining 45/week while training for a 5k.

4:07 PM  

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