It’s our favorite time of the year! Nope, not the return of PSL — MARATHON SEASON.
The TCS NYC Marathon is less than two weeks away, and with the return of the barricades and bleachers near Tavern on the Green, comes an onslaught of panicked patients to our clinic.
The training’s in the bank and it’s time to taper. But when a runner backs off their mileage and tells their body to rest, sometimes, it revolts.
For the last few months, you’ve been pushing yourself to new limits and your body has responded. In fact, it’s gotten so used to that high volume and level of intensity that it’s addicted to it. So when you take some of it away in taper, essentially, the body goes into withdrawal. Your mind goes off the deep end like an irrational ex and won’t listen to reason — it convinces you that you’re injured and creates phantom pains out of race nerves.
How can you tell if that new pain is real or just in your head?
If you’re experiencing a totally new pain that just showed up in the last week or two, for no apparent reason, it’s highly likely that it’s all in your head. Your mind is messing with you and throwing a “taper tantrum” in response to lower intensity training and the body’s recovery process. Now that you’re hyper aware of your impending race, you’re allowing yourself to be hyper aware of every little thing you feel in your body. The filter that told you the pain was NBD during training and allowed you to keep running has been switched off by a brain that thinks it has nothing better to do than turn butterflies into scorpions, sending shooting pain to various parts of the body.
RELAX. Stretch and foam roll, and take some deep breaths. If you have a regular yoga practice — do it. (But if you don’t, this isn’t the time to start!) Do what you normally do to chill out, occupy your mind with things other than your race and see if the pain fades in a day or two. If it doesn’t, get it checked out.
What if the pain is legit, and you’re thinking the worst?
If you’re truly freaking out — an old injury pops up, or you’re worried that nagging ache in your foot will progress to a stress fracture while descending the Queensboro Bridge — the only way to know for sure is to seek medical help.
So who should you call?
With limited time before race day and needing to prioritize rest above all else, your best bet is to head straight to a physical therapist. Most runners assume they need to see a sports ortho doc first, but that’s not the case. The reality is, if it’s a musculoskeletal issue, that doctor will prescribe physical therapy anyway because they entrust PTs to handle these types of injuries and pain. So cut to the chase and save time, energy and money on co-pays by booking an evaluation with a sports and orthopedic PT first. Try to get in a few times before your race. You’ll get the care you need sooner, and feel a lot less stressed without scrambling to fit in multiple doctor visits.
My legs don’t feel better from taper. They feel heavy and sluggish.
That sensation of heaviness is a totally normal phase of taper as your body focuses on repairing itself. In the very last days leading up to your race, it could also be a result of your body holding on to a bit more water as you increase your carb intake. Execute a few short strides at the end of your shake-out runs. A stride is not a full-on sprint; just pick up the pace and heart rate for 15-20 seconds to feel more confident that your legs will remember how to respond on race day. And believe in the magic of race day! It really will all come together.
OK OK, I’m not actually injured. But how do I quiet that voice in my head?
Focus on what you CAN control. Read and re-read the race website and online race reports from other runners, and plan exactly when you’ll hit the expo to get your bib. Information and specific plans are kryptonite to doubt!
Visualize your perfect race from start to finish. Then visualize a version of the race where everything goes wrong, and solve each problem in your head. Knowing you can solve problems should they arise will give you even more confidence on race day. Before you fall asleep each night from now until the race, picture yourself crossing that finish line, looking strong, and utterly owning that moment.
Remember, race the first 20 miles with your legs and lungs. Leave the last 10K up to your heart and mind! GOOD LUCK.