A while ago, a friend shared this quote with me; “Running is 90 percent mental, and the rest is all in your head”. At the time, I didn’t understand it, but over the past few weeks of facing my demons, I’ve come to realize it’s meaning a little more. It’s springtime, and that means a few things! It’s racing season, so dozens of my favorite runners are tapering. If they’re honest, most of them will tell you it messes with your head.
After a tough (but consistent) training cycle, I had one peak week left. I’d targeted a 100-Mile week (gulp!), but was feeling confident and ready to tackle the week one run at a time. I’d felt strong in Napa, the following week at Way to Cool, and my legs even held up for some really rough rainy runs. But Monday came around and something in my Achilles just wasn’t right. The pain was mild, but I took a tip from one of the smartest runners I know and decided to ease back and figure out the problem. I faced my fears and saw a chiropractor for ART. Success! She said I did the right thing, that I may have just taken an off step on the trails, but most importantly, that I needed to avoid hilly, really rigorous runs for a little while.
In my head, I knew this was a sentence for an early taper. I wouldn’t gain any extra fitness but I could risk a real injury by powering though my training plan. But in my heart, I was determined, tough and wanting to be on the trails splashing in the mud. So, I’ve walked a fine the last week and a half, running just enough to stay sane, but not enough to get hurt. Now with just 11 days until Lake Sonoma, I’m starting to play all kinds of mind games.
The Distraction Game
On one of our adventures on the trails, Aron and I brainstormed “distraction activities” during taper. We know ourselves well, and I knew that the waiting game would be tough this time around. So, I started reading the Hunger Games trilogy, took a trip to Chico with my roommate, took a few epsom salt baths and went to a few fun dinners with friends. I still have more distracting to do, but so far I haven’t resorted to obsessively checking my Race Guide or cleaning out my sock drawer, so I’d say I won the Distraction Game.
The Logic Game
Cutting back volume (mileage) for a runner like me who really loves being out wandering on the trails for a few hours really sucks. So, I have to constantly remind myself of the value of rest and read all about the science and ideas behind tapering/resting. For others needing reinforcement, bloggers Charlie, Aron, Devon, and Courtney have all written awesome posts that reminded me that my body needs rest, fuel, and recovery.
The Balance Game
Before I get too whiney, I should admit, I have still been able to run. A lot. Doctor’s orders only prohibited me from really steep or technical trails, and she recommended that I decrease my distance slightly. There is a very fine line between running easy and pushing too hard. That balance is an ever-present concern whether you’re injured, tapering, or just training as usual. In the moment, it can feel amazing to power through a run with all the speed and strength you have. But, balancing tough runs with recovery runs and appreciating the rest and recovery is crucial. A smart runner knows the right balance between tough it out, and when to back off.
Playing the Game Smart
With the clock ticking down to Lake Sonoma, I have all kinds of anxiety, worries, fears, and “what ifs”. Looking back on the last 3 months of training, I know I’m ready. But with less time spent running, I have more time to scrutinize how my body feels. Thoughts like “I’m getting out of shape”, “what was that weird feeling in my leg”, and “why am I so tired”, and “am I getting sick?” spin around in my mind until I’m dizzy. I, like everyone else, have to control the doubts and nerves and just make smart decisions. Now isn’t the time to squeeze more training in, change my diet, or buy new shoes. Instead, I should be slowing down a little if I feel tired, drinking loads of water, and getting to bed early.
I’m hoping I can rein in the mind games for just a few more days, but on Race Day, all bets are off.
Good luck to everyone else tapering for a spring race and battling the crazies. If you’re lucky / more clever than I am and have avoided the mind games, please share your wisdom with me.