Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Taperworm Infection (Restoidea)

We’ve heard of the great running myths and legends: the Runner’s High, the Second Wind, the Wall, but there is one such legend that is talked about more than all of those combined. A nefarious (thank you for bringing that word back into my vocabulary Chris Russell!), mythical creature that feeds on each and every runner at the end of their training season, laying dormant until all of the hard work is done and only their A-race is left to complete. I am of course speaking of that vile parasite, the Taperworm.

It is a truly strange, natural phenomenon runners endure in the last 2-3 weeks (depending on your plan) before their race, but the symptoms of the Taperworm infection are well documented and nearly impossible to avoid. The Taperworm not only affects you physically, but mentally as well, often times with both working in concert to create a diabolical situation that seems insurmountable. Fear not, my friends, there is a very basic treatment to help you survive this infection, which simply takes an open mind, a firm hand, and a little will power … ok, maybe not a firm hand, but you can overcome that pesky little worm whispering to you all the time!

The Taperworm Says:

‘Boom-baba-boom-baba-boom’: With respect to physical symptoms, one of the most difficult to deal with, especially for this Sasquatch, is what I like to call ‘The Olive Garden Syndrome.’ Ah, yes! A deliciously devious affliction where you are constantly carb craving and the thought of the ‘Never-Ending Pasta Bowl’ is tempting like sweet, sweet ambrosia, or at the very least a bowl full of Cadbury Mini-Eggs! Seriously, I am not a big guy, but when taper hits I have an appetite like ‘Lardass’ of Stand By Me fame. So what are you supposed to do food-wise when you go all Pringle-y, where you pop and can’t stop? Honestly, you don’t change much at all. During your training, hopefully, you have maintained a good, balanced, healthy diet rich in clean burning fuels, which should continue just as it has, but rather than going for that extra helping of everything you just have one good-sized plate. Maintain reasonable portion sizes and don’t get caught up in the carbo-loading excitement that you hear so much about and may even feel. But, if you are as spastic as I am, look into modified house wares that are sure to make you a hit at you’re your pre-marathon dinner party and make you the envy of all your friends.

‘No Fat Chicks’: Working hand-in-hand with the carb craving comes the irritation and lament of weight gain. Ladies, and gents (just to be fair), take a deep breath, put down your copy of whatever supermarket rag is currently boasting ‘How to Lose 10 lbs in 10-minutes, like whatever worthless celebrity’, because it is NOT for you. Let me be crystal clear about this, you WILL put on a little weight during your taper. OK, one more time for the cheap seats, this is a FACT, you will gain a little weight! During your taper you are going to want to hydrate properly - not so much that you are in the bathroom every 10-15 minutes - and in the process of doing so you will retain some water weight, but it is NOTHING to get bent out of shape about. It passes … yes, that was meant to be literal and a little gross.

‘This Can’t Be Happening’: There are a couple ‘Oh Sh*t!’ symptoms that manifest physically and eat you alive mentally during taper, which surely need to be addressed. First, lead legs. This particular gem is nothing new to ANY runner, but is one that always seems paradoxical during a taper. You’re just running along, your pace is a little slower, your miles a little shorter and your legs a little heavier?! What the hell?! I mean seriously, shouldn’t I feel stronger?! It is perfectly natural though. During taper your body does a little self-maintenance, some nice tissue repair, taking on more carbs and water than it had previously, and the result of which is your legs feeling a little heavier. Totally sucks, but it doesn’t linger. This situation is further complicated by the fact you may end up having all these little aches and pains, which can be attributed to your body healing itself. These pesky, taunting twinges may start out as nothing, but with aid of the Taperworm your head will blow the sucker out of proportion and turn it into career ending injury the likes of which would only be seen in Saw movies. So, in the words of Public Enemy, “Don’t believe the hype!”  RELAX, get out of your head, and remember everyone goes through it!

‘Bring It On’: As in all things there is a flipside to the aforementioned dumpy, lead legged, achy feeling, which is the, ‘I feel so good right now that I could dominate this race on one leg, hands tied behind my back, mouth sewn shut, eyes spooned out, streaking from the quad to the gymnasium!’ This is a tough one though, so do NOT fall victim to this feeling of pace and power during taper! You want to use this time to heal, fine tune and let your body rest up after months of heavy training so that when it comes time to toe the line you are fresh, fearless and focused. Stick to your plan. Keep the miles low, bring the pace down, work on your form, and just focus on the fact that you ready for this. I know, easier said than done, because that feeling the first day you go out and you do have that little extra spring in your step it’s like the first day you drove by yourself, you want to see what it feels like to break the speed limit! There is a time and a place for that, but it is not now.

‘When Is Enough Enough?’: The last and, perhaps, most difficult symptom to overcome is the paranoia. It is one of the cruel and destabilizing feelings that we have to learn to deal with, not only as runners, but also in our lives beyond the racecourse. That damned worm is in there all the while, making you all edgy as it whispers the questions to the back of your mind: Did I get in enough miles? Should I try and squeeze another longer run in? Did I do too many? Are my legs going to hold up? What if I don’t hit my goal time? What if the weather is terrible? What if I am late to the start? What if I forget my chip? What if I can’t find my shoes? What if I see a Sasquatch on the course? These are all perfectly valid questions, BUT they don’t matter at all at this point. There is nothing you can do in those last weeks that will make you any stronger or faster on race day that would really be noticeable, other than maybe being a little more fatigued. When you hear that little voice you have to tell it to piss off and just let it go. This is the moment when you need to be all sorts of Stuart Smalley. The best thing you can do for yourself is to maintain a positive frame of mind. Remind yourself of all the work that you have done to get to this point, trusting in that process. Remember your reason for going out and doing this, the cause that you’re supporting. Think about the people who have supported you through it all and friends that you have made along the way. But, most importantly, remember that this is YOUR race. There is no one else out there that is going to do it for you and it is YOUR moment to relish.

Here are a few other tips for surviving a Taperworm Infection:
  • Spend more time with your family. You’ve inevitably lost countless hours due to training runs, this is the time to show them how much you appreciate their understanding and try and bring them into your excitement.
  • Make your list and check it twice. Compile a checklist of everything you will need for your race (Before, During & After): food, clothing starting with the night before through the end of your race. Have a bag, box or area where you are keeping everything race day. Being confident in your preparedness takes some of the edge off.
  • When you do run during taper, run with a partner or group. By having someone else alongside you to talk with it is much easier to distract yourself from it all even if you are talking about your race. It is relaxing to have someone to bounce things off of.
  • Running a marathon is EASY, don't over complicate it, just ask Barney:


Samantha said...

Excellent post!!! For the first time, I'm in the "Bring It On" category for my taper period. I thought your prescribed interval run for me today was "easy" and almost pushed the pace harder, but knew I should trust your plan, so I was a good girl and complied. Then I read this blog post and was reassured that I made the right decision. I AM good enough, I've trained hard enough (despite plantar fasciitis), and I am going to DOMINATE my 3rd marathon on Sunday! And of course, I owe it all to you, the most AWESOME COACH evah!!!

Anonymous said...

I am totally in the throes of the taperworm...I love this post!

Javier said...

OK Great post. But the pic of the lady with the HUGE thighs has me a bit nauseated.

Slow Rider said...

Coach, was this post for me~
Great timing!


Isela said...

Great advice coach Sasquatchy. I shall take it all in and meditate on it.

Allison Goldstein said...

Just discovered this, thanks to Mary Cox. The Tapeworm is the perfect description of how marathon taper feels! Not that I would know at the present moment. . . . My legs are presently trying to figure out how to run two track workouts a week ;)