I’m what you might call the kind of person who likes to be in control. I like to make game plans. I like to set schedules. I like to analyze progress, meet milestones and prepare for every possible outcome so I’m never flying blind.
That’s why tapering for a marathon is so gosh darn difficult for me. After 20 weeks of dedicated training, the outcome of Sunday’s race is no longer in my control.
That’s right: whether or not I’m fast enough to break four hours again on the race course isn’t predicated on my mileage count this week, or how fast I do my strides tomorrow or even necessarily the weather come race day. The success of my 26.2-mile effort on Sunday is instead built on feats already come and gone: the seven road races I ran this summer, the brutal two-a-days I completed throughout the fall, the October 20-miler that took me around all of Manhattan, and the hundreds of other hours I’ve spent on my feet since starting this program in July.
There’s something terrifying about the outcome of this race being already largely set in stone based on my actions over the last several months.
But there’s also something kind of freeing about it. In the words Lady Macbeth, for whom things always worked out well: what’s done is done.
Of course, while about 90 percent of my race day result has already been decided, there are still a few small areas where I have some control. I’m not sure any of these have the power to make up for the two 8-milers I skipped last week while I nursed a head cold, but I’ll take whatever edge I can get in these final few days. The areas this weekend where I can maybe still get a leg-up:
- I can control my diet. I can’t undo the 16-ounce prime rib I ate on my birthday Tuesday or the wine I accepted over Monday night cake, but I can make sure the bulk of the calories I’m taking in today and tomorrow are starchy, sugary, glorious carbohydrates. Don’t mourn for me, protein eaters. From smoothies to pizza bagels to enough pasta to feed a small nation, I’m doing just fine.
- I can control my sleep schedule. Maybe I can’t force when I’ll actually doze off, but it’s 7 p.m. on a Friday night and I’m already in my pajamas. The final days before a marathon, the best thing you can do is stay off your feet, and with my flannel sheets upstairs already calling my name, I don’t think this one will be a problem either.
- I can control my anxiety. I’m sure I’ll have butterflies when I toe the starting line Sunday regardless, but there are small things I can do today to clear my mind for race day. I can set out all my racing clothes (and inclement-weather backups) for an inventory check. I can charge my Garmin. I can print my Amtrak tickets, study the course map and make plans with friends so I’m not juggling come race day. Most importantly, I can plan which cheesesteak to order after I round that corner and the art museum comes into view. Pat’s? Geno’s? Both?
Will I be disappointed if it turns out my last five months of training don’t yield the result I want in Philadelphia? Maybe. But thinking back on these last 20 weeks reminds me of just how much I’ve accomplished this training cycle, from winning a 10K to pushing my limits to running with friends. Even if I bomb the main event, I can honestly say this marathon cycle has been a success. In the words of someone more eloquent than Lady Macbeth and me:
The journey is the reward; the marathon is the victory lap.
Bring it, city of brotherly love. I’m ready for you.