Q: Help, my Legs are Aching, Pre-Taper!

Lauren,

I am a freshman in college and this is my first season running cross country. First of all, I am in love with the sport. From what I understand almost every runner hits that certain point in her season when all of the hard workouts, lifting sessions, and long runs start to take their toll. Well, that time is now for me. With two weeks left to go my legs feel wrecked and I don’t recall what it’s like to walk up a flight of stairs pain-free. I find myself trying to hydrate my pain away and I’m getting tired of the awkward stares of strangers when I bend over to stretch at every spare moment. So I suppose my question is…How do I survive the last week before my coach starts to taper my training?

Sincerely,

Kelli

A:

Hey Kelli-

You need to start the taper now.  I don’t care if its “on the training schedule” or not…your body is giving you all the signals that you need to back off!  Its not normal to feel wrecked legs all day this close to your taper; that’s more of a first-few-weeks-back-training-doing-too-many-lunges-and-squats kind of thing.  If it happens this late in the season, its a clear indication that you are over-training or close to it.  Overtraining doesn’t mean your coach is an idiot or anything.  Their training might be brilliant, but for whatever reason, you aren’t adapting/recovering enough.

Now don’t freak out.  This doesn’t mean you ruined your season or anything; if you are smart and lucky you can recharge and compete your best when it counts.  But in the future, you need to put more emphasis on listening to your body and less emphasis on what the training schedule says.

A competitive training schedule is written by a coach with certain assumptions:

  1. You are sleeping enough.
  2. You are running your easy days easy enough.
  3. You are running the workout paces correctly and not too fast.
  4. You are perfectly healthy and managing stress well.

If those four assumptions are true, then you should be able to handle the schedule as it is written, to the tee.  But, for real, I’d like to meet one college freshman who can tell me that they do all those things.  I can’t even say I do all those things.

If you want to really break through as an athlete, you need to realize that its not as simple as doing everything we are told.  It is our responsibility as athletes to try our best to go into training prepared, but if we aren’t prepared (got 4 hours sleep writing a paper, have a little sinus infection, whatever) we need to confront the reality and adjust the training.

At Stanford, I often pulled all-nighters studying or socializing, which was not the best athletic move.  At first I would dig myself into a hole trying to pretend I could do it all.  But my coach, Dena Evans, explained how life and running compete for one pool of energy.  I had to be conscious of the things in my life that pulled energy from that pool, and start making informed decisions.  Whatever decisions I made, I needed to be able to stand behind them and own them.  If they affected my training or racing, I had to own that too.  College is full of decisions, and there is a constant struggle between your athletics and your “real life.”  Some college experiences are worth missing to get a good nights sleep and train/race your best.  Some college experiences are worth losing a few seconds off your 5k for.  Its up to you to make those choices, and own them.

So for now, your reality is that you are dead tired.  If it were me, I’d take a day off completely, go eat a hamburger and fries, and sleep for 12 hours.  Then the next day I’d run alone about 4 miles at a zillion minute mile pace, and fill my body with nutritious food (fruit smoothies, salmon/veggies/brown rice) and sleep another 10 hours.  I’d keep my stress level down and my social activities minimal.

Seriously.

That would jumpstart my recovery and then I’d resume normal training through the taper, listening to my body if it wants to run a slower pace on easy run days.  Most importantly, as the races get closer, I’d keep my confidence up with some good old fashioned positive self-talk (I’m awesome, look how athletically evolved I am by listening to my body, I’m filling up my energy pool, every day I get stronger and stronger by resting).  Trust me, the way you look at your situation is more important than what the situation actually IS.

Let me know how it goes,

Lauren