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Cometh the spring, cometh the taper

April 1, 2011

March is traditionally a pig for marathon runners. It’s the monster month when Sundays are consumed in long runs, the evenings are dedicated to tempo runs and occasionally you get a day off. And March is over. (Can I get a whoop with that?)

This week has been a fine illustration of why March can be the most draining month for a runner. Last week I had a mini taper in anticipation of what turned out to be a disasterous half-marathon. So, this week, it was time to up the training volume in a last peak before the real taper starts. Naturally that coincided with a two-day conference and a day in Oxford, leaving me with precisely two days of normal running schedule.

Forgoing an evening meal with colleagues to celebrate a fairly epic 2010, I opted for a run round my old stomping grounds in Oxford. With the clocks freshly turned to British Summer Time, the evening was light and mild, and Oxford was at its best.

Scholars on bicycles? Check. Rowing teams cramming in some evening practice on the river? Check. Meadows with lowing cows and sand-coloured colleges? Check. Students in mortar boards and bat-wings making their way to and from exams… Um, no. Wrong time of year.

The map of my evening run through Oxford
13.5 miles through Oxford – I highly recommend the bit around the river and Christchurch meadows. The start and finish at Jordan Hill business park is a bit less attractive.

One run probably shouldn’t make that much difference to what I can do on race day, but it’s psychologically important. I find that if I don’t feel in control of my training schedule I get stressed about when I’m going to cram in the runs. In a worst case scenario, it’s not inconceivable that I’d inadvertently amplify the importance of this run to the point where I got to the start line unconvinced about keeping up my target pace for the distance required.

 So, with Sunday holding my last really long run before the marathon, I’m looking forward to cutting the training back gradually over the taper and stressing less about how I can cram runs in. The race is palpably close now, and I already feel excited about running it (and pleasingly I feel more confident about the distance than I did last year).

Once into the taper, the only thing that will remain is for me to pick another race to look forward to. I’ve already got a place for the Royal Parks Half-Marathon, and I’m going to run the Oxford Town and Gown in May, but I’d like to find another half-marathon so I can actually see what time I’m able to run without going a couple of miles off-course…
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