The art of the reverse taper: It’s physical, and it’s psychological.

After a marathon: a great time to walk in the park and smell the roses. (Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)
After a marathon: a great time to walk in the park and smell the roses. (Image courtesy of photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

There are a few different ways to approach physical activity. There’s the “I exercise to stay healthy” way, and there’s the “I train for events” way.

I’m in “event” mode for the first third of my calendar year because the Boston Marathon is a mainstay of my overall fitness program. Now, I’m transitioning into the “exercise to stay healthy” mode for a little while before picking my next challenge.

(I think it might be a sprint triathlon in late summer, but we’ll see.)

In the meantime, there’s a “reverse taper” to take care of.

The reverse taper is exactly what it sounds like: the opposite of tapering for a race. In the last two weeks before the Boston Marathon, I ran fewer miles at a lower intensity, so that on race day, I would be fresh and rested. For the most part, it worked well. Temperatures climbed higher than many of us anticipated (or planned for, yikes) so there did come a point where I had to change race strategy.

In the week or two after a race,  it’s important to keep moving, but to do so in a gradual way so that you can work off the fatigue of the race effort while still getting your body back into its normal exercise routine.

“You’re not ready to run another marathon until you’ve forgotten the last one.”

– Olympic champion Frank Shorter

Ah, yes. There’s a psychological aspect to recovery as well.

The 118th Boston Marathon may have been one of the greatest road races ever staged in the history of the sport. It was epic and grand. It was stunning and perfect (except, perhaps, for those 70+ degree temperatures at 3 p.m. in Newton).

And now, it’s over.

Welcome to the psychological letdown of marathoning. (Or doing a big triathlon, or another event that you’ve put your heart and soul into preparing to do.)

Some athletes pick another event immediately to train for, so that they have something on the calendar to look forward to. (I have a no-pressure half-marathon sort-of picked out for early June, but I haven’t committed quite yet.)

Some take a real rest from racing and training hard, but stay active in a moderate, consistent way for a few weeks to let our bodies fully recover.

And some of us lose our way and forget to keep active, then have a harder time coming back to train for whatever it is that’s coming up next.

That’s one of the reasons why I started this blog. I’ve fallen into the post-event trap of simply not being active for weeks after a big effort, thinking that my “muscle memory” would somehow allow me to regain my fitness when I did start working out regularly again. But there was often a real physical and psychological letdown. And often a bit of a weight gain as well, because you can’t eat the way you do when you train for a marathon when you’re not training for a marathon.

So I’ll be paying more attention in the coming weeks to the psychological aspects of the reverse taper. You might see a note or two on the blog about those topics in the near future.

In the meantime, I did work out this morning.

Today, that meant 20 to 30 minutes of very moderate cardio. I did a very easy elliptical workout this morning for 30 minutes – just enough to get my legs moving again. Tomorrow I may try a two-mile jog – I’ll see how I’m feeling. And I’ll stretch, stretch, and then stretch some more.

Here are a few additional resources from coaches and experts I trust on how to approach the marathon reverse taper:

Hal Higdon at HalHigdon.com: Post-Marathon Recovery (with thanks for the Frank Shorter quote above)

Jenny Hadfield at RunnersWorld.com: Recovering from a half or full marathon

Gina Kolata at nytimes.com: A fascinating read on the science behind marathon recovery

Today’s #every48 workout: ELLIPTICAL – 30 minutes of the easiest cardio I’ve done this year. Just trying to get all the muscles moving in the same direction. Reverse taper/marathon recovery, Day 2. (Day 1 – yesterday – involved only a bit of walking. And sleeping. A lot of sleeping.)

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