Taper week can feel a bit like a prolonged penance service. Physical activity is minimal during taper week. Runs are shorter. There’s less cross-training, all in an effort to rest your body to be fresh on race day. Without the distractions of daily training comes plenty of time for the mind to go bananas. It becomes a week for examination of consciousness and all kinds of thoughts come up: Did I train hard enough? Smart enough? Did I do enough hills? Did I practice my nutrition plan correctly? Did I bite off more than I can chew with this? Should I have practiced on the actual course? Am I prepared? Did I get myself into this for a good reason or a stupid reason? The list goes on as the examination of consciousness takes on all forms — from general to specific, from training questions to questions of existence and happiness. Welcome to the craziness of taper week.
Tomorrow I take on a new challenge, the Sehgahunda Trail Marathon. Somehow when I tell people what I’m doing they miss the “marathon” part and ask how long my trail run is. To clear up any confusion, it’s 26.2 miles along the Finger Lakes Trail in Letchworth State Park near Rochester, N.Y. (Actually the checkpoint break down has it listed as 26.3 miles, hence my comical side is calling this an ultra.) As my mileage wound down this week, I had plenty of time to think and get nervous. But instead of pushing aside my fears and pretending they didn’t exist, I decided to address each one. What was I afraid of? Ok, then what was the worst that can happen? I know that I am prepared physically and with my race day plan — keep moving forward, walk the difficult terrain, run the parts I can at a moderate pace. I have my hydration pack and an obscene amount of Honey Stinger Waffles. My Garmin is to keep “on pace” only to avoid cut-off times and help me assess where I am on the course so I don’t miss any of those coveted checkpoint turns.
My fears? That I’ll get lost. That I’ll miss a cut-off. That I will struggle with mud, gullies and hills. That other people will judge me if I finish last, or near last. Each time one of those comes up, I ask myself: What’s the worst that can happen? Really. If I wander off or miss a cutoff, well, that’s just an adventure. If I struggle with parts of the course? I walk and get my bearings. If people judge my time, well, that’s their problem, not mine, because it doesn’t change the fact that I entered, I trained and I showed up.
Every person will have her own set of goals and values and visions for the race. Each one is perfectly valid. What matters most is keeping true to myself. Perhaps the challenge I’ve been needing and the reason I picked this race wasn’t just about the physical terrain (although that’s definitely part of it) and getting through the event. Perhaps I also needed an opportunity to be myself fiercely and fearlessly regardless of what everyone else is doing around me.
Here’s to race day, the adventure it will bring and the possibilities it will create.