Sunday, September 30, 2007

Taper Tantrum

At this time next week, it'll all be said and done in Chicago. I can't wait.

In the last week I've run the gamut of emotions, which is quite typical of a productive taper for a big race. Kudos to me for achieving the peak of agitation and irritability!

My overall balance and energy levels are highly dependent on my training schedule. When the volume suddenly decreases, my head doesn't know what to make of it. Unfortunately, some of the people around me don't quite know what to make of my mood swings either.

My blanket apologies to any innocent victims who crossed my path last week or will do so in the next seven days. Is it a coincidence that some of the closest people in my life are all out of the country or on business trips right now?

I went so far as to seriously contemplate dropping out of the race altogether last Sunday, after the sluggish Quantico experience. I set out a long time ago--before there was Race with Purpose and so many other distractions in my life--to run Chicago in 3:40, which would qualify me for the Boston Marathon. I'm a realist, though. While I never set a goal that doesn't present a high degree of challenge, I don't raise the bar so high that it's inevitably beyond my ability level.

My thought last Sunday afternoon was simple: Why am I going to do this if I already know that 3:40 isn't going to happen?

After a while, a marathon just becomes like any other race to some runners, including me. If your training gives you no reason to believe you're ready to perform at the level you are hoping for, sometimes it's best to just bail and pick another one that gives you more time to prepare.

I fired off an e-mail to Adam that simply said: "I think I'm dropping out of Chicago. I just don't see the point."

About five seconds later, my phone rang. It was time for a bit of a coach's reality check.

A long conversation boiled down to this:

1. A 3:40 is not out of the question. On a great day with perfect race execution, it will happen.
2. If I'm having a good or an okay day, it's unlikely that I'll qualify for Boston, but I will still PR, given the flat, fast course in Chicago.
3. I have to go into the race on Sunday already knowing how I will handle each scenario and stick to the plan I create for each circumstance, whether it's humidity, snow, or if I'm just not feeling it that day.
4. I have to run my own race. This is up to me, whatever plan I end up following. I can't get caught up in what my beloved teammates end up doing on race day. I have to stay inside myself and inside my own head--nobody else's.

The dangerous thing about taper time is that I lose perspective and focus on just about everything (just ask my editors at work!). The hours usually occupied by training are filled with analyzing the scenarios and overthinking the simple act of running.

In the end, spending four days in Chicago with a bunch of friends is supposed to be fun, not stressful. I remember the first weekend in July, after months of less-than-perfect training for my first half ironman at Tupper Lake. I was terrified and spent most of the time worried about how I was going to do. The moment I realized, about 20 miles into the bike ride, that I was going to do just fine, I couldn't stop smiling. I couldn't stop enjoying the experience and cherishing the fun I was having that weekend with my friends. I instantly felt this wave of relaxation wash over me.

I ran my 5 miles this morning on that National Mall, heading directly toward the steps of the Capitol building, back to the base of the Washington Monument, and up to my apartment. It was the first effortless run I've had in months. My legs felt free, my mind was clear. There's nothing more I can do but rest and enjoy whatever the next seven days bring.

I'm feeling more at ease and peaceful right now. I can't promise it'll last. Five minutes from now I could be a bundle of nervous energy again or snapping at somebody who meant no harm.

I'll just say "sorry" now and get it over with.

To be continued...

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