Archive for May, 2012




What is a marathon taper?  And, you might also ask: “why is the intrepid editor talking about this now”?

The TAPER in simple terms is the final, reduced work, phase of preparation for a marathon race. In practice, it is somewhat dependant upon who is doing the tapering and the training plan she or he is following.  As to the question of ‘why now?’, your editor is about to run his next marathon in about two weeks (Winthrop Marathon) and needs to do SOMETHING while he tapers.  For those who have never done such a crazy thing as run a marathon OR taper for same, the reduction of running that is part of this final preparation tends to drive the prospective marathoner to distraction.  After at least weeks, but more likely months, of fairly intense training, you are supposed to just sit around doing nothing.  OK, that isn’t quite true, but comparatively that is what it feels like.

Since this blog is meant for seasoned athletes (which is not code for ‘over the hill’) tapering prior to a long race, such as a marathon. could be a bit different from the taper done by a younger, perhaps faster, probably more resilient athlete.  The truly ‘seasoned’ runner is likely balancing enjoyment, training effort, and injury avoidance while properly, safely and effectively preparing for a marathon event.  We have talked previously about how really seasoned, really elite runners are tending to endurance/volume and away from intensity during training.  Some use their races as their only speed workouts.  But, that is training and while the taper period is also part of the training, it is a particular part and the only part we will talk about here, other than to recognize that the preparation phase is related to the last bit before the race and may influence the nature of it.

 As one becomes ‘seasoned’ the focus in long distance racing may vary.  Serious, competitive runners of any age know they must train and race smart.  One of the contributors to Running in the Zone, Herb Phillips, an awesome senior runner, stated in his contribution: “Three marathons a year is one too many.”  In other words, if you are striving for good times from racing, you must limit the number of races in favour of quality of outcome.  Some runners so enjoy the marathon event that they participate often, in a dozen marathons a year or even more.  In many such cases, the whole training/racing dynamic shifts so that each marathon constitutes the long run of the previous training cycle.  Some of these runners turn in very credible times, but I doubt that many (if any) of them would claim they were producing the best they can do in each race.  It simply isn’t their focus.

As far as the taper goes, I will limit this discussion to the athlete preparing for one, to two or three marathons in a year.  Personally, I have done as many as four in one year with training starting more or less on January 1 and the last (and best) marathon happening around the beginning of December.  To be fair though, at least one and maybe two of those races were never meant to be serious with respect to an anticipated result.  I can also say that ‘stacking’ two marathons so that the first is really preparation for the second, can be effective.  The gap between is up to the individual, but I am thinking here of a few weeks between events. As I reviewed my 2008 records to ensure I was being accurate, I realized that I ran three of those four marathons in just 12 weeks, not counting training prior to the first of the three. The first was Maui (a fun, destination event) followed four weeks later by the Royal Victoria Marathon, followed  eight weeks later by the California International Marathon, with a half marathon thrown in, mid-way between Victoria and Sacramento.  Not surprisingly, after CIM, I did take a bit of a rest.

In the simple case of a ‘free-standing’ marathon, you will have spent some time following a training plan that will attend to various aspects of running and fitness, but regardless of anything else, will have produced a lot of volume in the form of the so-called LSD or long slow distance runs.  Typically you will start with modest distance, building over the training period to a final LSD near or even at the full marathon distance.  There will also be some hills, speed workouts, probably some racing at shorter distances and even cross-training.  Generally though, after you finish that LSD of 35-36km or so, you will find yourself about three weeks from race day.  What to do now?  Stop running and rest?  Absolutely not!  That is NOT a taper.  What you want to do is to cut back on all training in a planned and strategic way.  I have used a weekly plan that goes 35km, 25km, 15km for the LSD, with the 15km run at least one week prior to the marathon event.  Total running volume also decreases, as does intensity.  The whole point of the taper phase is recovery and rejuvenation, not bed rest.  Of course, I will admit that some of my relatives have suggested that a bit of time in a nice quiet institution might be beneficial to me, but I think they may have something else in mind. 

One of the big challenges of the taper is feeling OK about doing less and less in the last days before the marathon.  It is not hard to understand why you are cutting back.  You will be tired.  You may have minor injuries, some so minor that you don’t even recognize them – just little strains and niggles, maybe not even that.  A sure sign that you are fatigued is the time needed for recovery after long or hard runs.  For many years I have judged my own general fitness by how long it takes to recover, including inside a given run or race, after a difficult stretch like a serious hill for instance.  The run or hill climb may feel just as difficult, but how soon you are feeling strong and ready afterwards is a clear indicator of where your training and body really are in the greater scheme of things.

Getting back to the specifics of the taper, your body needs to recover strength and resilience prior to the physical challenge of a hard marathon which you want to result in a good time.  All of that is pretty easy to understand in an intellectual or conscious way.  However, as anyone who has done this kind of thing will tell you, the reduction in training after a long and intense period of preparation, just feels wrong – at a cellular level!  Some feel guilty.  Some long to run as if called by a greater force.  First time marathoners, and you can be that at any age, may worry that just a bit more training is still needed.  The truth is that if you have followed a sound program for the weeks and months prior to this point, you will be as trained and ready as you are going to be.  More hard effort in the last couple of weeks before the race is unlikely to increase your race readiness and is more likely to do just the opposite, by delivering you to the start line with too great a load of body fatigue.  You need to have confidence that having followed your training plan, you will be prepared to meet your goal.

There are many theories about just how much taper is best and over what period, but I know of no training regimen that delivers an athlete to the marathon start without some form of recovery period or taper.  The best advice to those feeling anxiety about not doing enough, is that it is normal to feel that way and as much as possible you want to accept the instinctive feeling, but resist it none-the-less.  When you stride up to the starting line feeling powerful, light of step and eager and ready to run, you will fully understand what that taper was about.  Few people go through a rigorous training program without approaching those later long runs with some feeling of fatigue as total mileage increases and LSD distance reaches its peak.  If you have time to think of it before the start of the big race, you WILL recognize the difference of how you are feeling after an effective taper phase.  The body does not lose its hard-won fitness in those final few days of relative inactivity at the very end of the taper, but it does recover from the cummulative fatigue of those many weeks of hard work.

When you do what I call ‘stacking’ a couple of marathons fairly close together with the conscious intent that the second will be your true goal race, the dynamics of the training and taper may change somewhat for the second event, but not the concept.  In the scenario I have in mind, the first marathon becomes almost the longest ‘LSD’ (except it likelywon’t be Slow) for the second marathon.  A week of normal recovery will follow the first marathon and then a new ‘taper’ may begin almost immediately, with a long run (true LSD this time) well below the peak of the 42.2km race just run.  Looking at the old rule of thumb that demands one day of rest for every mile raced, means that about one month after the first marathon, you should be ready to race your second event.  Interestingly, that works out very nicely for the typical period of tapering.  And, just to be clear, the ‘one day of rest’ does not mean no running, but rather no racing.  The question obviously follows: Does this work?  It has worked for me, more than once.  I also know a good many people who claim the same experience.  Should you try to run a good marathon followed by a better one?  Personally, I tend to think not.  What has been described is meant to be a strategy to produce your best result in the second event.  The first time I did something like this was a bit of an accident.  The first marathon was the ONLY marathon I was planning.  However, the weather intervened and without naming names, it turned out to be the worst marathon I have ever run in respect to conditions on the day.  Within a day or two of that event, I realized it had been so awful that the conditions had changed it from a decent race to an ugly LSD.  I quickly looked around for another marathon not too far off and realized my best bet was the Vancouver Marathon, right in my own backyard.  In that second race, I recorded the kind of time I had been hoping to realize at the first marathon.  After that, I intentionally did this at least twice, with the second marathon producing the better result.  So, as noted, although not truly a LSD training session, the first marathon becomes the last long run of the training program for the second marathon and the ‘taper’ almost begins at the finish of the first!

Naturally, you can’t leave too much time between your stacked marathons for this program to be effective.  If there is a moderate period of time between events, you may want to drop down with the first LSD after Marathon #1, then go to a longer LSD before commencing the second taper phase.  I tend to feel that there is no need to reach the 35km LSD prior to the second marathon.  Don’t forget, you have just done 42.2km in race mode.  This kind of thing requires great care not to become injured or overly tired.  This discussion is based on preparing for a serious racing effort, not for simply going out to enjoy the experience.  This theory would also explain how a person could run a bunch of marathons over a reasonably short period of time – say one a month.  You really only train ‘up’ for the first and then after that, you simply maintain.  How many marathons a person might be able to do will depend on a lot of things including the basic resilience of the individual involved.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense to the reader, but having taken the time to write this post, I am a few hours closer to my next marathon, as I continue my own taper.  By the way, I was quite thrilled a day or two ago when I realized that I was actually feeling the pangs of not running and truly feeling like I should be out there.  I decided it was a good sign that I was ready and that my training has been successful!  We’ll see about that in about ten days now.



Finisher Medal - Winthrop

As is often the case when I get personally interested in an event, I tend to also want to post something to the blog about it.  In order to get the proper flavour and info on the Winthrop Marathon (and Half Marathon), an event I have never done even though I have been eyeing it with interest since its inception, I decided to ask the Race Director, James Varner, for some comments or quotable quotes. Here is what he had to say.
“The Winthrop Marathon was created totally unintentionally. At the time I was only a trail race director, hard, slow, steep, mountain trail races at that. [Ed Note: you can usually find James hanging out over at Rainshadow Running]  And, I had only run two road marathons and less than 10 road races total (compared to 60 or so ultra-marathon trail races) in my dozen years of running. A road race wasn’t even something I was thinking about three years ago when I stumbled upon the Winthrop Marathon race course while on a bike ride.”
“A buddy who was training for one of his crazy 500 mile or so bike races came to visit for the weekend.

Headin' fer Town. Winthrop, that is.

So we went for a ride right from my house up the Chewuch River Rd towards the Canadian Border. As we rode further and further up the forested river valley with the mountains of the Pasayten Wilderness towering overhead and the river roaring alongside the road it dawned on me that the road was paved for almost 26 miles from town. In my head the gears started turning: a paved road with very little vehicle traffic, that’s mostly in the national forest, that follows a scenic river, surrounded by wilderness and mountains and goes downhill all the way to fun little “old west” themed town. Hmmm….”

Trail runners seek out the hardest, rockiest, steepest, trails to race on. I asked myself what do road marathon runners want? They want a fast time, a PR, a BQ! The Winthrop Marathon starts at about 3100ft and finishes at 1800ft gives runners the chance to run fast(if they can handle all that down that is!). And to really make for a special marathon I throw in the low key, fun comes first philosophy that my races are known for, a super cool finisher’s medal, a top notch post race meal/celebration including local micro brew, ice cream, and live music for no extra charge. A scenic, old school, downhill marathon was born!”

Getting closer!

So, there you have it, right from the RD’s mouth!  There are some great photographs at the event web site, in addition to the ones kindly provided for this piece.  I am now into the last couple of weeks of preparation and scaling back my run distance as the big day approaches.  I will admit, I’m looking for a good time – probably not a PR or BQ.  Not the PR, because my actual Marathon PR was set some 24 years ago.  And, not the BQ because due to my own limitations, which have too many times been described here, and the new more difficult standards for the BQ.  After a terribly frustrating injury filled year in 2011, I AM looking for a good marathon performance.  What does that mean?  I’ll tell you when it is over and I decide whether or not I achieved the goal.  Running this Spring has been considerable in volume and rather minimalist when it comes to racing.  Winthrop will only be my fourth race in 2012.  So far each race has taken me to a new standard or level of satisfaction and has been used as underpinning to whatever will happen at Winthrop.  Haven’t decided if I am running with or without my cowboy hat.  Think I will probably reserve it for before/after.  A good performance COULD give me a well placed age-graded time – maybe a new #2 or, dare I think it, maybe even a new #1 AG time.  Now I guess that WOULD be one of those PR’s James mentioned – Age Graded PR.  Hmmmm – has a nice ring to it!

Clearly, this is all getting way too far ahead of where we are today.  For now, my wife Judi and I are just looking forward to the experience and all the good neighbourly fun James is promising.  Usually, Judi just cheers me on and rings her signature cowbell, but this time she will tackle the Half in her own right.  Only issue there is who is going to ring that bell for the both of us!? 
I know the entry was almost full, but if this description has got you interested, I will advise that you scurry, was going to say ‘mosey’ (might be too slow), over to the web site and sign up.  Sure am looking forward to this one for just a whole string of reasons, the biggest one being that running should be fun, and THIS sure sounds like fun to me!

World Class Event, Personal Challenges and An Amazing Community


That title seems pretty big, but it all relates to one thing, the BMO Vancouver Marathon.  It is so nice when it all comes together like that!

So, let’s break it down.  The World Class Event is pretty obvious, especially since it was already voted Top 10 by Forbes.  And, the event is now the largest Canadian Marathon event.  The organizers, the City of Vancouver and all the sponsors, supporters and volunteers outdid themselves to make 15,000 runners welcome to the full (5,000) and half (10,000) marathon events.  And, seemingly in a spirit of support befitting such a major undertaking (including two brand spanking new courses) the weatherman contributed near perfect conditions with sunshine, moderate temperatures and virtually no wind. 

As anyone who has been following this blog will know, I ran the Half Marathon.  I can therefore attest to the amazing beauty of that route.  Because I am from the Vancouver area and know most of the Marathon route pretty well, I can say with certainty that it would have been twice as beautiful – well, more like it had twice as much beauty because it was twice as long as the Half.  As for the organizers’ promortional statement: “A marathon so beautiful you’ll wish it was longer.”, I think that may have been written by a non-runner.  I do get what they mean, though.  And, I think on this past Sunday, some 5,000 others did too.

I was privileged to be a member of Team Run for Change.  Some of us were supporting members to the five participant runners who took on the half marathon as what may have been a true life (and life-changing) challenge.  Run for Change is a free program of which I have written previously, whereby individuals from shelters, recovery programs and low-income circumstances are encouraged to use running to improve health and fitness and create positive personal challenges.  Heartiest congratulations to all those who have made use of the program including the 31 who trained for and took on the Sun Run 10K in April, and particularly the FIVE who tackled the BMO Vancouver Half Marathon.  Much credit should also go to the volunteers who, under the leadership of the group founder, Benji Chu, have been helping to make this possible.

I had my own personal challenge going as well.  I was facing a comeback from a terrible injury filled 2011, so was a little tentative about what I might really do out there on this enticing new course.  Not only that but worse than usual Spring allergies were making things more challenging than usual.  Of course, I tried not to let on about any of this to my two fellow competitors in the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge.  What a fabulous and fun thing the RRHMC turned out to be.  Although it might be difficult to perceive this through the haze of smoking trash talk that went on almost daily for the last few months, the three of us (who have actually only met once in Negril, Jamaica, at the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K) have become real friends.  That includes supporters from the Reggae Marathon team and a few others who have supported us on our Facebook page and commentary.  The whole thing came out of the total coincidence that Larry Savitch, Chris Morales and I were running three different half marathons in New Jersey, Toronto and Vancouver, respectively and on the same day.  Age Grading was the key to three guys 46, 54 and 67 even thinking they could somehow race.  A yeoman effort was put in by all three, because friendly as it was, and fun-loving as we apparently all are, we ALL wanted to win!  In the end, the young guy – Larry, came out the winner.  He needed a PB to do it, but that is what he got.  He wins the PUMA FAAS 500 shoes put up courtesy of PUMA and the Reggae Marathon and the unique First Place medal offered by Red Line Laser Engraving (2nd and 3rd medals to me and Chris for three amazing podium finishes).  Larry also wins two 6-packs of Red Stripe once Chris and I figure out how we are going to deliver.  Best way will be in Jamaica, at the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K on December 1, 2012.

So that takes care of the first two items in the title.  It is the third item that has most moved me.  I have long known that the running community is special.  I have met very few runners who are not supportive of other runners regardless of ability.  We love our sport so universally that I guess we want others to feel the same.  Over the years, I have been personally supported and encouraged by people who rank with the best in the world – because I have had the good fortune to have come to know them one way or another. In saying this I am not talking about me, but rather how the top athletes are ready to respect and help lesser lights to achieve their best.

That is not to say that while racing runners aren’t single minded and competitive, but outside of that the generosity of spirit is unrivaled.  Furthermore, in serious situations you will see runners give up their race to assist an injured comrade. Just ask the aforementioned Benji Chu about what happened on the top of Mount Frosty when he gashed his leg on a jagged rock, more than 10K from any form of official assistance.

This past weekend I saw so many great efforts by people from one end of the spectrum of running to the other and then through various communication mechanisms including face to face as well as FaceBOOK, the congratulations flowing from the lowliest of us to the best and back knocked my socks off.  It wasn’t that I didn’t already know this, just that it was so profoundly obvious.  Sunday afternoon and evening, I could hardly keep up with the Facebook traffic of people recognizing the results of so many others, as well as expressing thanks to the event organizers and volunteers for giving us this fabulous event.

I write this blog to share thoughts and insights and sometimes get into discussions via social media re specific posts.  However, this is one posting upon which I would love to have some commentary right here, just to be sure that everyone, not just those directly connected to me are involved in the conversation.  I would particularly like to hear feedback on the nature of the running community and how YOU see it.

BMO Vancouver Marathon Weekend – And More


Ready to Race

The event Expo has already begun and the race is tomorrow.  Races, actually, since there is both a full and half marathon.  I waited until now to post this, as there have been a lot of things developing as race day draws near.

‘Vancouver’ has worked hard for most of the last two years, putting together what is really a whole new event, notwithstanding that this is the 41st running of the Vancouver Marathon.  The two biggest things are the massive route changes for both the full and half marathons, and the fact that unprecedented numbers are running: 5,000 in the full marathon and 10,000 in the half.  These are both capped, sell-out registrations. 

The new routes will be different, with only start and finish sections in common and some 63km of Vancouver streets in play.  The organizers have done a wonderful job of consulting the various communities involved and by that I mean all stake-holders, not just runners.  A big goal is to get more spectator involvement and make the events something to celebrate.  If New York can close down major arteries including a large chunk of Manhattan for race day, while some 2,000,000 people come out to cheer, then Vancouver can surely follow that kind of lead.  That is really what makes the world marathons what they are and what organizers hope to see on Sunday.

To a practiced eye, the routes promise to be fast.  Friends, good runner friends, have ‘test-driven’ these routes and confirm even without race-day traffic control, that they are indeed quick.  They are not without challenge and there is the odd tricky section that could make a person pay if they don’t show proper respect, but all considered, they are fast.  With the quality of elite participants on hand to run, it will not surprise me to see a new event record in the half marathon.  The full marathon is a little less obvious as it has one major testing section, but that is found in the early going, just near 10K.

My own race is the half and will be enhanced by the added fun of the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge which includes three guys from three different places, running three different half marathons, but all on May 6.  Chris Morales is in Toronto where he will tackle the Goodlife Fitness Toronto (Half) MarathonLarry Savitch is from New York but running the Longbranch New Jersey (Half) Marathon.  And, I am in Vancouver.   This is all just good fun and something that began as a complete coincidence when we learned that all three of us, related only via the Reggae Marathon, are running a half marathon on the very same day.  The on-line tweets and trash talk have been furious and plentiful but all in fun.  Personally, I’m not sure what I’m giong to do after Monday, once our big event is over!

On Sunday, loving to multi-task, I will also be running as a member of Team Run for Change.  Over several years the Run for Change program has encouraged people from shelters, recovery programs and low-income backgrounds to participate in run/walk programs as a part of complete life-style changes.  In August the 3rd Annual Run for Change 5K Fun Run will happen.  On Sunday, five courageous group members will graduate from the low key training programs, through the Sun Run 10K program (some 31 people did the 2012 Sun Run), to run the half marathon.  There is an official Run for Change cheer team positioned just around the 10K mark.  There are at least 12 people running either the full or half marathon, as members of  Team Run for Change.  Thanks to the generosity of the BMO Vancouver Marathon, the entries of the five program members have been provided free of cost.

Presiding over all of our efforts as we make that last (downhill, I am pleased to say) dash for the finish will be the oh so recognizable voice of Steve King, recently a subject of a post on this blog and co-editor of Running in the Zone: A Handbook for Seasoned Athletes.  I am pretty sure Steve is going to be congratulating a lot of first time finishers and personal best achievements on the day.

Here is my wish for a great race on May 6, to each and every one of the 15,000 runners in Vancouver, and to my fellow competitors in the Reggae Runners Half Marathon Challenge, and especially Team Run for Change!