Last Thursday I had a speed workout scheduled. It was much warmer and far more humid than I had ever anticipated! The first mile, the warm up, felt great. I was flying and an 8:30 min/mile pace was easy! Then I started the speed miles and it ALL changed. I could barely keep my 7:15 min/mile pace. My legs felt like lead and it took every ounce of energy to put one foot in front of the other. I managed to finish the workout and a cool-down but as I was walking home I couldn’t believe how hard it was to WALK. I was FREAKING out! How am going to run a marathon in 2 and a half weeks?!
I got home, calmed myself down, showered, ate some dinner and spent some serious time stretching. I had leg cramps all night long and could not rest comfortably, my legs were killing me. I had a rest day on Friday and thought this would solve the problem. WRONG. Saturday’s 12 mile long run started out exactly the same. My leg’s felt like lead. I kept having to stop and stretch. It was not like me.
So what caused all this? Why were my legs suddenly feeling heavy and lethargic? One Word. Taper.
Sometimes when runner’s taper for a marathon they experience a feeling of lethargy. It centers in their legs but affects their whole body. In a word you feel sick, but your healthy. Runner’s World explains the taper:
“Tissue repair in the legs during recovery, coupled with the fact that you are storing more carbohydrate and water late in the taper, will make you feel like you do after eating a big meal,” says Dr. Smurawa.
In essence, you feel like a slug. While feeling this way is natural during a taper it can also be triggered by cutting your mileage too quickly when you start to taper. For me, I think this was definitely the cause of my sluggishness. I ran 20 miles as one of my last long runs, and then only ran 2 miles as my recovery run. I knew it was not quite enough and I should have kept running and hit about 3 or 4 miles. Ideally you want to cut your miles by about 10 to 40 percent. You’ll need to cut more if your training for a marathon and less for a shorter race. Other factors to consider are whether you’ve been running high miles or low miles as part of your training plan and additionally your fatigue level.
So what can help you to feel better?
Rest. Resting will allow your muscles to recover and heal. Your body will also return to more normal levels of glycogen, carbohydrates and water. You will begin to feel better over time.
Strides. Strides are 100 meter sprints. These will help you to shake some of lethargic feeling in your legs. It will also help your legs to feel fresh.
Your not alone! Many other runners who are doing your race feel the same way. We are all experiencing phantom pains, leg twitches and heavy legs. These are positive signs. They indicate that your muscle tissue is healing and rebuilding.
I’ve been doing all of these. Resting and stretching seems to be the best option. After stretching for about 20 to 25 minutes my legs feel looser and lighter. I focus on yoga poses like pigeon and down-dog. Down-dog stretches the back of my legs, calves and the bottom of my feet. Pigeon stretches my hip flexors, and piriformis.
I’ve been regularly using “The Stick” and massaging my legs.
An added benefit of the stretching sessions is that they help to calm my mind and nerves. With my muscles feeling better, even if just for a little while, it reminds me that the taper is temporary.
I also like to remind myself that I’m not alone in the way I feel. Michael is experiencing the same aches and pains. We each have been waking up in the middle of the night with restless legs and the urge to get up and walk around. And we’ve each fallen asleep on the couch in recent days to be told by the other that our legs were twitching like crazy while we were sound asleep.
The pain, frustration and a worry a taper brings is only temporary and our bodies way of healing us so that we can perform our best on Marathon Day!