With only a few weeks left before a marathon, many runners get excited. The big day is around the corner and more importantly they have made it through the toughest part of the training. For some there have been some bumps along the way, minor aches and pains and perhaps one specific stubborn injury that they have worked to keep at bay. They have made it through their long runs, but not without some ‘consequences’ either during their 20 milers or in the days that followed.
It’s now time to think of the taper. For a marathon a taper is typically the last 2-3 weeks before race day, where the volume comes down and the main focus for the athlete is to rest and recover in preparation for the race.
Often there are two contrasting voices competing for attention in the runner’s mind during this period. The first, and most often the more dominant voice, says ‘You have made it, you have endured enough, you are ready for race day and any little ache or pain you are feeling will heal itself during the taper and you’ll be just fine on race day’. The second, likely a meeker, quieter, but stubborn voice, says ‘You know this ache or pain you are feeling might not go away and could be a problem on race day. Maybe there is something you should do about it?’.
I think we all know which voice is the more logical one here, but so often runners lean towards staying positive and getting excited for race day instead of taking care of and fine-tuning their musculo-skeletal system for the challenge ahead. For these runners it is time to trust your instincts and address each and every worry that is trying to break through your excitement. One hamstring is pulling a little, a calf feels tight, the hip is a bit stuck, etc etc. There is no harm in addressing these asymmetrical hypertensions with regular, quality slow targeted self-massage to help bring you back to symmetry and have you firing on all cylinders come race day.
So use these last runs as a final feedback of what you need to go home and work on with the foamroll/theracane, as these final home-treatments can become the difference between smoothly gliding past mile 20 on marathon day, or slowing, walking, or jogging with a hitch in your stride.
Joseph McConkey, MS, is a running coach and exercise physiologist, specializing in injury-prevention. He has coached at the club, college, and pro levels and has been the director of the Boston Running Center’s Gait Analysis Lab for more than a decade. Joseph holds the highest accreditation by the USA Track and Field Association and the IAAF, as well as a Masters in Exercises Science with a focus on Injury Prevention and Sports Performance. He is the author of Pliability for Runners.