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How to spot taper madness

Posted by Matt Pepin, BostonGlobe.com Staff  April 4, 2013 05:23 PM

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100klemond.jpg Jacqueline Palfy Klemond is one of six Boston Marathon entrants testing Polar personal training gear and blogging about it for Boston.com
If you’re reading this blog, you know something already about running. Maybe you run marathons. Maybe you’re running Boston in just over a week. If so, then you already know about taper madness.

This isn’t for you. This is for your wife. Or husband. Your coworker, boss, best friend and the guy at the deli counter at the grocery store. Anyone you might encounter from today until April 15.

They need to be warned. To understand.

The taper.

The madness.

The fact that you will, indeed, be yourself again one day. But not until at least April 16.

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Jacqueline Palfy Klemond teaches a spin class. With her eyes closed and feeling silly her friend snapped a photo. Also, that big bruise is from running into a desk at work on her way to some donuts. Is it sad that the only pre-race injury is a food-related one?

I realized I was deep in taper madness – the out of control, panicky feeling you get as you ramp down mileage in preparation for race day – on Tuesday, when I read the interview with Shalane Flanagan on Boston.com. When sports editor Matt Pepin asked her, “how does the race play out in your mind,” she replied, “All I can ask for is to be able to display the work I've put in, and hopefully that's enough to put me in contention for the win. ... If I get left in the dust and I'm not even part of that battle down Boylston Street, I'll be pretty upset about that.”

In my mind, the only way my race plays out is that I finish. Well, maybe that isn’t entirely true. I’m a huge fan of visualization when it comes to training – and an even bigger fan of hyperbole. So when I imagine myself, I’m right next to Shalane. I’m qualifying for the Olympics. I’m setting a world record. I’m a golden god of all things running.

My race won’t likely be that amazing. And with the mediocre training I’ve done, I don’t have the right to hope for a personal record – though I secretly hope for one anyway. I told a friend the other day that no matter what happens, I will only give my time in the 3-hour range. “Oh, I ran a 3:72,” I’ll tell people. Or whatever it is.

If you or someone you love is tapering, you might recognize some of the classic symptoms of Taper Madness – not yet included in the DSM, but it should be.

Marital crankiness. Second only to the hormonal-induced pregnancy rage – where you seriously consider divorce and a lifetime of single parenting for infractions as infuriating as forgetting to take the recycling out – taper madness takes its toll on a marriage. My husband – smartly – avoids me as much as possible during the taper.

Fun-house mirror. After months of eating whatever you want and still fitting into skinny jeans, you suddenly realize that there’s no way you can put away the same amount of food with fewer miles. And no matter how you look, you see yourself and say, “Good grief, there’s no way I can do this. When did my thighs get so gigantic?”

Training amnesia. You open your Excel spreadsheet more than once a day and remind yourself: I just ran 20 miles. I am not out of shape. Hello, my name is Jacqueline and I am an addict. I am addicted to running. And I have to count the days between the race and my last long run to reassure myself I am not losing fitness every second.

Gear obsession. Does that green tank top chafe? Should I buy new shorts? Should I wear my heavier shoes or lighter shoes? Do I like vanilla gels? Those of us in taper madness may or may not obsessively check the weather, lay out our gear and “test drive” various combinations for chafing, wicking, visibility and, frankly, odor.

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At mile 23 of the Twin Cities Marathon – throwing my shirt to my husband and hoping to finish.

The 10-day forecast. How accurate is it? And why can’t there be a 40-day forecast? We have a lot of technology in this world – we need to spend way more of it on predicting the weather, like, a year in advance. I may or may not have four or five different weather apps on my phone. And I check them all.

As the taper goes on, I get more and less confident. I did back to back 20-milers, and they went fine. I wasn’t sore or tired after them. The day after the second one, I taught a spin class, and it felt easy to me, even though class members were sweating and cursing. Tuesday, I knocked out 5 miles at 8:00 pace, with no trouble. So maybe I’m in better shape than I think.

My real hope is to live up to an email my friend sent me after Twin Cities – where I faltered the last 10K, but hung on to qualify – barely – for Boston. “This is where the real marathoners show up,” he told me. “And you showed up big time.”

Finally, I had conquered whatever mental block I had and felt truly like a real marathoner. I hope I can show up again on April 15. And Shalane better watch her back. You know, after she wins her award, takes a shower, gets a massage, eats a bagel and checks out of her hotel room. She’ll be able to do most of that before I finish. But still. I’m coming.

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Jacqueline Palfy Klemond creeps out the top U.S. marathoners. (Photo illustration by Cory Myers)

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Look for updates, news, analysis and commentary from the following.
  • Steve Silva, Boston.com senior producer, two-time Boston Marathon sub-four hour runner.
  • Ty Velde is a 16-time Boston qualifier who's completed 12 consecutive Boston Marathons and 25 marathons overall. Ty is now training for his 13th Boston run and will provide training tips for those who train solo and outside, no matter what temperature it is.
  • Rich 'Shifter' Horgan is a 19-time Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team member who runs in honor of his father, who died of colon cancer. He will provide updates on local running events with a focus on the charitable organizations that provide Boston Marathon entries for their organization's fund raising purposes

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