“Jitterbug” originated as a term to describe alcoholics who suffered from the “jitter bug”–withdrawal symptoms, also known as the “DT’s.” We runners have our own form of the jitter bug: “The Taper.” We love it, and we hate it. We love it because we can finally let down from the relentless grind of obsessive training. We hate it for several complex and varied reasons, which I will dutifully explain, as I am experiencing them in actu. Right now.
1. We’re Afraid We’re Not Doing Enough
Marathon training, for three or four months, pushes us beyond comfort. We load it on, we increase, we work harder. Some days, the intensity seems unbearable, yet we locate some hidden reservoir of grit within, and we soldier through. We pat ourselves on the back, and think about how tough we are.
Suddenly, we are ordered to desist. Back off. Decrease. Reign in. Hold back. These are not phrases we are accustomed to hearing in our monomaniacal marathon brains. It feels weird. We ‘re afraid we’ll lose our edge, worry that all our hard work will be lost if we don’t keep pilin’ it on.
Some of us (not to be named; you know who you are) sabotage our marathons by adding extra miles and sneaking in unplanned hard workouts during the taper. *** Sssssst! Poof! *** Four months of great buildup, lost. Result: a flat, unexciting performance on race day.
2. We’re Tired…REALLY Tired
The taper is when you’re supposed to feel great. Strong, in peak shape, feelin’ like a million. “Bring it on!” I felt that way last week, the first week of my taper. Every workout was like running on clouds. Then…thunk. Dead legs. Overwhelming fatigue. Dark. Flat. Uninspired. “What’s wrong?” I opined to Mike, and he told me something I should know by now: during an intense buildup, muscles break down. They need to rebuild, thus the taper. Which saps energy. Which makes you tired, cranky and anxious. Everything is working—stealth—to heal you, but you feel like crap.
Qualifier: Some people feel fantastic during the taper. They feel immortal, god-like, smooth, super-human. If that describes you, revel in it. I salute you.
3. We’re Afraid of Getting Fat
I love Jill’s gleeful explanation of her training: “I run so I can EAT!” We indulge the guilt-free pleasure of a bowl of ice cream, extra serving of roasted potatoes, shavings of bleu cheese on our salad. But, once the taper starts, mileage is cut drastically. Your appetite may cooperate, so you naturally eat less. Or—like me—you may be inexplicably ravenous even though you’ve reduced mileage by as much as 40%. “Muscle rebuilding” is again the explanation, although I’m suspicious. Who wants to carry an extra two pounds for 26 miles? Not me. I negotiate between Spartan and nutritious. No cake for me on your birthday, Kmonkee!
4. We’re Afraid We’re Injured
During the taper, things pop up that never bothered you during training. Shin pain…knee soreness…calf tightness. WTF??!!! Nary a peep for 4 months; why NOW? I’ve experienced all these bugaboos during tapers, phantom issues that mysteriously disappear on race day. I’ve also had lingering injuries, real ones, that bit me hard during the race. Right now, I’m “managing” a chronic hamstring tightness/soreness, hoping it will calm down in the coming days. It was fine for most of the training, but has growled markedly in recent weeks…no doubt due to increased intensity and distance.
5. We’re Afraid of Catching a Cold
If you’re anything like me, you wash your hands 10 x day, or curse yourself if you forget. You resent people at meetings who cough and blow 20 minutes AFTER you’ve sat next to them. Every tiny dry catch in the throat is a harbinger of terror. Spouses are not above suspicion…”Scratchy throat? Guest room for you!” Zinc is your friend. You long for a black market for the old Zicam, as a backup, just in case the worst materializes.
It is a miserable way to live. You empathize with the hypochondriacs, and…well, you don’t want to. You want to be fit, strong, healthy. Please just get through the week without that telltale niggle.
I ran my fastest track mile ever last week. Today, I had an excellent last marathon pace run…6 miles @ 7:22 average pace, and it felt easy. The weather in Minnesota looks good. I have my outfit and shoes all picked out, and took them on my dress rehearsal today. My buddies Paulette and Art are on the same flight to Minneapolis (she’s running, too), and I get to spend time with my Minnesotan friends Alan and Cathy.
I’m ready. Jitterbug, begone!