The last three weeks of every marathoners training plan are not only challenging, but also crucial. Taper mode is that point at which your body is fully trained and prepared to go the distance of 26.2 miles long on race day, but your brain does not agree. To complicate this process, your training plan now says that you are supposed to decrease your mileage, rest, eat, and hydrate well in preparation for race day.
This seems to make total sense until you actually reach the point in the training plan where you enter Taper Mode and your brain screams: “Nooooooo. Noooooo. We’re not ready! We can’t do this! We must run more! I am not ready for the start line!”
To which your body responds: “Chill. We got this. We ready. We trained. Now is time to rest and gather our stores of glycogen and other nutrients to be able to perform.”
Yes, you are, in fact ready to race.
Your brain is not going to hear that. Your brain is not going to believe. Taper mode is called “the insanity of taper mode” because this is the point at which even the most psychologically robust completely loses their mind.
You develop OCD. You tell everyone you live in a bubble and to not touch you.
You’re like the llama in the Emperor’s New Groove telling everyone to not touch you.
The last few weeks before a marathon, you are also at your most vulnerable, immune wise. You sanitize everything like an air lock on a spaceship. Then you sanitize it again. You sanitize so much you should buy stock in soap and baby wipes.
Your training plan for Taper Mode says 6 miles. You cheat. You run 8 miles instead.
You panic. You pray. You make deals with both God and the Devil and anyone else who seems like they may be able to help you in any way. Your brain is on full-out psychotic freak out mode because it just realized you are about to run a MARATHON and that is 26.2 miles long. It’s way different from those Netflix marathons you’ve been doing to try to cope with Taper Mode.
All you need to do is make it to the start line healthy and strong. If you can make it to the start line, your body will do the rest. The start line is just as important as the finish line. In order to complete a marathon, you must cross both.
You start reading inspirational quotes, books, blogs, magazines, and watching inspirational movies to try to get yourself over the hump. You start imagining worst-case scenarios. You mentally prepare for this race better than some cult about to eat the pudding before the Hale Bopp comet. Run, walk, crawl, drag, or if in Philly, IN DRAG, you will cross the finish line. You imagine every single possible way and scenario to finish 26.2 miles because your brain does not think you are ready. You break it up into chunks: it’s a 5k with a 23 mile warm up, it’s a 10k with a 20 mile warm up, and any other chunk you can break down.
Meanwhile, your body is relaxed. Your body knows. Every fiber of every muscle in your body has been trained. The imprint of the 500+ miles you have run in the 5 months it took to prepare for the race are ingrained in your muscles. Your body knows what to do.
Your brain needs to get it together.
Calm down, man.
It doesn’t matter if it is your first time, your 20th, or your 50th, Taper Mode always feels this way. For me, I am going for medal # 14. Taper Mode is always the same. Your body is ready, and your brain is completely freaked out. You have followed the training plan, and the training plan has worked 13 times before. You will be fine.
But honestly, the insanity of taper mode makes the marathon that much more beautiful. When you lace up on race day, cross the start line, and get into the rhythm of the race, you will find that moment where your brain finally agrees with your body and calms down: “We got this.” That moment, when everything clicks into place, you just fly like you are on cruise control, and enjoy the moment for which you have spent a significant amount of your year preparing to do. That is the moment of marathon magic.
So while the insanity of taper mode is sure to be annoying and drive everyone crazy, in some ways it is necessary. Being able to appreciate how far you have come and everything you have OVERcome to get to this point is part of the marathon magic. The miracle is that you had the strength, the discipline, and the fortitude to train for those 5 months. This is for the Sunday morning long runs when you would have much rather stayed in bed and listened to the radio, this is for all the times when you ran in the pouring rain because you had to get the miles in, and a treadmill would have been worse punishment than anything mother nature can muster.
To run a marathon, you have to go a little crazy.
“But I’m not ready,” says brain.
“Yes, we are,” says body.
“We will start and we will finish,” says heart.