You have to learn to pace yourself. Pressure!
You're just like everybody else. Pressure!
You've only had to run so far, so good.
But you will come to a place, where the only thing you hear
Is the starting gun in a race, and you'll have to deal with pressure! Pressure (w/ slight modifications to last line)- Billy Joel
The Miami Marathon is this weekend, so I've been in taper mode the last 3 weeks. For those uniformed on marathon training, you run your longest run (20 miles) 3 weeks out from race day. From there on in, your long runs get successively shorter (16 miles, 10 miles, 5 miles), so that you show up race day well rested and ready to run.
I used to follow what was the accepted theory in running circles of a 2 week taper. I could deal with that OK. A couple of years ago, I adopted the 3 week taper plan based on a series of articles that recommended it as a better approach. The only problem with this slightly longer taper is that by this final week, I start to question my fitness. It just seems so long ago since I ran really long. Do I still have the fitness level to run 26.2 miles? My higher brain and experience tell me that all is well and I'm prepared for the event, but my primal brain just wants to get out there and run. Primal brain wants me to go out long and hard. Now! I'm one twitchy bunch of bottled up energy & nerves. Sunday can't come soon enough.
I guess that's the whole point of the taper. Get you to the starting line rested, fresh and a bottled up bunch of energy ready to explode. But the reality is, you don't want to explode off the start of a marathon. I've sabotaged too many marathons going out too fast early in the race and have it come back to haunt me in the last 10K. The theory is to run even splits, or the holy grail of running, the negative split, in which you run the second half of the marathon faster than you ran the first half. Thus, I'm stuck in this quandary of being itching to go out fast knowing that it's a bad idea to do so.
I usually tell my running buddies that I love taper time, but that's only true for the first 10 or so days of taper. After that the nerves and energy start to build up the internal pressure. I think this is why race expos are so fun. Everyone is so keyed up for the race start, giddy with excitement and anticipation. The result: unnecessary purchases that 2 months later you ask yourself: "What was I thinking?" My brother calls it the "Leopard Skin Running Shorts" purchase. Not that either of us ever purchased leopard skin running shorts, but most runners make clearly unnecessary purchases at expos. I blame pre-race jitters for this phenomena. Don't get me wrong: there is great stuff to buy at expos and I spend more than I budget. But its like selling cheap drugs to a jonesing junkie. We are an easy sell. Thus, if I show up Sunday in leopard skin running shorts, you'll know the pressure got to me.