Taming the Taper Monster, or How 16 Miles Turned into 21 Miles

This week I cut my mileage in half in order to taper for my upcoming (and my first-ever) 50k race. Distance is my game; the first three miles of a run are often a slog for me but I positively float later, so as my mileage has dropped down to about five or less daily miles, and with multiple rest days, my spirits have plummeted as well.

Aching to put some real ache in my muscles, I leapt at the chance to join my trail running club for an informal group run. I aspire to roll-with-the-punches, laid-back, awesome trail runner status, but I’ve only ever run trails in races, never just for the simple joy of it, so I can’t rightly call myself a real trail runner. I can’t even grow a bushy mountain man beard to help my trail cred.

The planned route for this weekend was about six miles. I decided I’d run to and from the start, about five miles each way, to give myself a solid 16 mile workout and get the long run gorilla off my back.

Funny thing about plans when you’re trail running: you can’t depend on them working out.

When I woke up this morning, I felt like crap on a cracker. Yesterday’s BFit workout involved 150 air squats and 100 kettlebell swings that left my quads and lower back feeling like they’d been hit by a train. Walking was a struggle,
let alone running. Looking at the outside temperature, a bracing 28 degrees, didn’t inspire visions of a fun romp outdoors. Somehow, I talked myself into lacing up anyway.

The hilly miles en route to the group run meet up spot were murder on my already torched quads. An incredibly steep downhill descent the length of a city block further stressed my already fatigued braking muscles. The nearly five miles to the meet up location were tough and slow — so slow that I missed the appointed start time despite having left ample slack time based on my usual speed, but luckily the group hadn’t left yet.

The run itself was an adventure: we clambered over large rocks, scuttled beneath a low bridge like gnarled old trolls, and even hopped a fence. Everyone was friendly and smiling. Trail running is all joy. At one point, the run leader told us that we could up the mileage to seven if we took a small detour. More run, more joy, right? After some grumbling about not having brought water, and about having been lied to too many times on trail runs, the group agreed to tack on the extra distance. It wound up being closer to eight, rather than seven miles. We stopped a few times during the run to let stragglers catch up, so although it was by no means a walk in the park, it wasn’t overly challenging.

Nonetheless, when it was through, I knew that my quads were not up to the punishment of reversing the hilly route back. So rather than run about five hilly miles, I opted to run about eight miles on a flat, paved trail.

I’d eaten a Clif Builder’s Bar before I laced up, then a pack of caffeinated Clif Shot Bloks during the wooded trail portion of my run, for a total of less than 500 calories. Those had been burned off miles and miles ago — my stomach growled ferociously on the way back. I was wearing lugged trail shoes on pavement, with socks I’d worn before, but never in those shoes, and big blisters were growing on the balls of my feet. I drank every drop of water in my hydration pack and thirsted for more. The final miles of this run were far from physically comfortable, but I at peace. Not only that, but I was having the time of my life. I was on a long run, and the taper monster was calmed, at least for the time being.

Saucony Trail Run

Today is easily the coldest day so far this fall. I’d signed up for a fun run hosted by Saucony (the regional Saucony rep brought shoes to take for a test run) and Potomac River Running held at Lake Fairfax Park. I started the run with the 90-minute group, but I lost them at the turnaround. Everybody else turned around where they were and instead I decided to run the 50-ish uphill yards to the point where the front of the group turned around. Big mistake, as I went from the front half of the pack to second-to-last in the group. I quickly lost sight of the people in front of me and when I got to a road crossing near the parking lot which was a 4-6-way intersection, I had no idea which way they’d gone. So I made my own way. I chose a path that took me back to where my group started. After a few minutes I linked up with the 60-minute group and ran back to the parking lot with them. My legs felt pretty tired, but I tacked on a few more minutes to push my total mileage for the outing above six — the mileage I’d prescribed myself in my training plan.

I’m glad that I didn’t go for the full 90-minutes. Targeting that group was really a matter of pride. When I’m running a shorter event at a race that offers multiple distances, I sometimes feel like I’m not doing enough, not trying as hard as I can. Part of the discipline of training is sticking with the mileage/workout that’s right for me at the right time, not just hacking through something because I’m physically capable of surviving it.

My trail running club has a casual 25+ mile run on its calendar for Black Friday. It seems like all of the club runs are for ultrarunners. Since I’m just a wannabe right now, it’s a little intimidating and is keeping me from being as involved as I’d like to be. I’ve been thinking about doing the Black Friday run in order to meet some other members, but a 25-mile trek doesn’t fit with my training schedule for next week. The smartest thing for my training would probably be to not participate in the run. I suffer from a pretty debilitating case of runner’s FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) — witness my eight race weekends in a row from earlier this fall — so saying no to something that interests me is a big step in the direction of running discipline.