My taper madness has begun early.
It seems absurd – there are just over two weeks before my race and I haven’t even done the kind of training that warrants a taper, let alone the madness of one.
But here I am.
I’ve been a runner long enough to know what it feels like – the list-making, the inventory taking, the random and impulsive gear-buying.
Some of it’s been necessary – my Nathan hydration pack, purchased six years ago and worn faithfully for long runs ever since – smells so badly that the kids make faces when they walk by it hanging off a kitchen chair. And the tubing for the bladder … well, let’s just say that I finally gave up trying to get the mold out and tried to tell myself that it wasn’t that gross. Until even I couldn’t take it anymore (it was that gross).
I have a Salomon backpack that I won at a race a few years ago (in a random drawing, not as a prize for competing, but I don’t lead with that), and it was way more expensive than my beloved Nathan, but I just can’t. It doesn’t have front pockets, and to be honest, the straps across the chest are so confusing to me that I get overwhelmed with how to actually put it on. (Note: Also why I wouldn’t win a prize for something involving spatial intelligence.)
With the Zumbro 50-mile race coming up, I knew I needed a new hydration pack, and now a purple version of my stinky old blue one hangs benignly on a kitchen chair, waiting for me to make it all disgusting with my sweat and generally lazy habits.
And I bought a new long-sleeve shirt from 605 Running Co. And a new windproof vest. I love both of them, even though I literally have a walk-in closet full of long-sleeve shirts, vests, tights, shorts, cycling clothes, yoga clothes, and soft T-shirts to run in (I seem to have completely given up on technical running tank tops – maybe I’m just getting old and need softer material, or my steadily declining pace is dictating the style of clothes I wear).
There’s not a single item I actually need to buy for this race, except some food.
But this is what happens during the taper. It is as dangerous to your emotions as it is to your bank account.
My friend Kelly, who is doing the 17-miler, has done the same thing. “I think I’m in some nesting phase of race training,” she texted one day about the shorts she randomly bought – even though there’s no guarantee at this point the sun will ever come out again and we’ll ever be able to wear shorts. Ever. Again. (This winter has been long, friends. Maybe I have winter madness, not taper madness.)
I’ve been buying running clothes for 30 years, at least, ever since track in high school, when I practiced in an old pair of flowered shorts – compression-style, but that’s not what they were called then, they were more like Jane Fonda-style – and a purple T-shirt my high school skater boyfriend gave me that had a cartoon drawing on it and said: “Alone and nude.” I’m sure that didn’t look weird to my coach at all. I ran in a pair of Nike tennis shoes and raced in my sister Kim’s old spikes that she wore in college. They were white and old and I didn’t wear socks with them because she told me not to.
I used to love going through the catalogs and imagining the fancy spikes I would buy if we had the money – like this would somehow bump me from a solid fourth or fifth place anywhere up in the pack (I did once win my heat in the 400).
But this is what runners do.
I don’t have the training logs to look back on and console myself that I’m ready for this race, though, to be fair, I’m in better shape than I was at this time last year. I’ve done a few weeks around 50 miles, some back-to-back runs, and faithful yoga and sculpting classes. I’m in generally a better place and have another year of a lifetime of running behind me.
But just like in high school, and just like anyone staring at the long-term and wildly unreliable forecast for a race (right now muddy and maybe 60 if we’re lucky), I’m putting all my fears into gear and hoping something at the other end of my debit card can save me.
I was thinking about it this weekend as I put on a new pair of trail shoes (which I think I’ll return because I’m pretty sure they run giant and my normal size is absurd feeling – and let’s face it, I don’t need to add unwieldy shoes to my many coordination issues).
I’m currently running in five different pairs of shoes and four different brands.
I’ve worn Asics for years, have the pair I wore for my first marathon tucked onto a closet shelf. I’m still loyal to them. But then a few years ago, Greg at 605 suggested I try a pair of New Balance. I hadn’t run in them in more than a decade, but I tried them, and now I’m in love (I may love them more than Asics at this point). And then I tried a pair of Brooks – jury’s still out, but no major complaints. And then a pair of trail Asics (after Mizuno discontinued two different trail shoes I loved).
And now the Salomon.
I don’t know what I’ll wear for the race. I’ll probably buy three more pairs of possible shoes and then wear my old Asics anyway because I’ll get superstitious at the last minute.
The answer to all of this, of course, would be doing something like hiring a coach or following a plan or even just taking a deep breath and telling yourself everything’s going to be OK.
It’s going to be OK on the first loop, a little worse on the second loop and then you just have to start the third loop, as Natalie said last year. Ain’t nobody coming to get you anyway, so might as well finish.
Through the dreadful beach volleyball sand. The slippery rocks. The first six hours in the dark on unfamiliar trails. The aid stations lit up with Christmas lights and full of people who bring you in with their smiles and eye contact – there to help you with whatever you need (note to self: What I need is to spend less time at the aid stations).
All my taper madness is wrapped up in gear right now.
But in just over two weeks, it will smooth itself out over the miles, in the dark, on the trails, the ridges, the rocks and sand, the power-hiking, the long stretches of silence, the jokes that aren’t funny to anyone else ever again but that make you spit out your water at mile 45.
With a huge contingent of Sioux Falls runners heading to Minnesota. With a long drive back.
And the belief that I’ll find my own personal Walden once again, at Zumbro.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear every other Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at email@example.com. Story ideas are encouraged.