Ask anyone who's trained for a marathon before to tell you the thing they most looked forward to while training (aside from the race of course!). I'm willing to be that their answer is the Taper. You spend weeks and months building epic amounts of fitness through hundreds of thousands of footsteps - one after another after another with the sole purpose of being able to show up on race day to do your best. So its no surprise that you look forward to the final drop off in training, where you can finally exclaim "The hay is in the barn!". At that point, there really isn't much else you can do to get more fit. You've done all the hard work to get to the point where you are - now you just have to let that work soak into your body and come out stronger and well rested for race day. It all sounds so glorious. But we all know its not. Taper madness anyone?
A traditional marathon taper last 3 weeks, so your last super long run is about 3 weeks prior to race day. So you get through that final epic week of training, much of it motivated by finally getting to the taper, only to realize that Week 1 of the taper isn't really a taper at all. I mean, it is less than you did during the peak week, but let's be real. That first week is a fake taper, disguised as just another training week. For me, it is a cutback of about 25% of my total volume from my peak week, but it is still pretty average relative to my weekly miles, not to mention the 16 miler I still have to run. You can't just cruise that first week, because you still have quite a bit of quality workouts to go.
So what I'd like to propose is that we re-label this first week commonly associated with the taper, and call it the Transition week. For me at least, associating taper with the first week makes me more mentally soft going into the workouts. The feeling of focusing on recovery doesn't motivate me to work as hard and I often find myself struggling just to get out the door. Nevermind the fact that I just completed two out of the last three weeks at higher volume than I've ever done in my life. So adding the mental shift to recovery at this time seems to make it more difficult to get out any do the work I still need to do. Calling it a Transition week at least starts putting the bug in your head that this is the time to start moving into the next phase, but you still have some solid work to accomplish. At least that's the way I see it!
So from now on, I am referring to this first week as my Transition week. The week between peak training and taper. Next week will truly be the taper week we all come to love. Of course, it is also during that time that those little aches and pains come out of nowhere and doubts start creeping into your mind of "did I train hard enough". So maybe we'll have to scrap this whole taper thing alltogether. We'll see. I'm just going to take it one week at a time from here on out.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a 16 miler to complete tomorrow to close out of my Transition week...