Tapering for the final

September 24, 2006

Training for and racing a marathon is often compared to taking a class. It’s a decent analogy, especially if one assumes that (A) the class is a traditional lecture course in which grades are determined largely by the final exam and (B) the student is a traditional grade-grubber whose happiness is determined largely by his GPA. All of his work throughout the semester is merely a rehearsal for that moment of reckoning; the only thing that really matters is the number he gets at the end.

Naturally, the analogy breaks down somewhat in the last couple weeks before the big test. Savvy students use this time for cramming, whereas savvy athletes use the time for tapering, which is basically the opposite of cramming. Meanwhile, the insecure among us put the hours previously devoted to running into highly speculative predictions of race performance. That’s about where I am right now: looking back over recent “quizzes” and wondering whether they collectively forecast a sub-2:22 at the Twin Cities Marathon next Sunday, which would get me onto the Dean’s List of marathoning. (Actually, it’s Jim’s List, as in Jim Estes of USATF. Whatever.)

So what indicators am I looking at?

(1) Half-marathon performance. My 1:09:29 at Super Jock ‘n Jill on September 4th was a major disappointment; I had hoped to break 1:08 and was sure I would at least beat my PR of 1:09:02, set back in March on a hillier course while running alone. To break 2:22, I’ll have to run almost as fast for twice as long — a daunting thought.

(2) Recent workouts. Overall, these have been similar to the ones I ran in the spring (before my 2:23:25 at Vancouver). Example: on April 9th, I did 3 x 2 miles in 10:06/10:07/10:07 with 3-minute jogs in between; on August 16th, I did the same workout in 10:05/10:07/10:07. Similarly, on April 21st, I ran 5.05 miles at 5:15 pace after a 12.4-mile warmup; on August 20th, it was 7.0 miles at 5:19 pace after a 12.0-mile warmup. As I mentioned in my previous post, consistency is nice but improvement would be nicer.

(3) Weight. I’m currently a couple of pounds heavier than I was in the weeks leading up to Vancouver. Perhaps those two extra pounds are pure mitochondria-enriched muscle fibers, but somehow I doubt it.

(4) Other statistics. Since my goal is to qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials, it’s interesting (though not necessarily that instructive) to compare myself to 2004 Trials qualifiers, whose traits have been reported in USATF media guides and in a study by Karp and Stager. (Thanks to Mike Salkowski for mentioning the latter in his blog.) So how do I match up?

Age. Average for 2004 male qualifiers: 30. Me: 33.

Body-mass index (BMI). Average for 2004 male qualifiers: 20.1. Me: 21.7. (But thanks to Greg Jimmerson, Ken Pliska, and Ryan Shay for proving that a person of my size can run under 2:22!)

Average weekly mileage. Average for 2004 male qualifiers: 90. Me (July thru September): 55.

Peak weekly mileage. Average for 2004 male qualifiers: 126. Me: 66.

Percentage of miles run at marathon race pace or faster. Average for 2004 male qualifiers: 25%. Me: 18%.

Runs per week. Average for 2004 male qualifiers: 9. Me: 6.75.

Full-time job? 2004 male qualifiers: 62% said yes. Me: yes.

In summary, relative to previous Trials qualifiers, I’m older and fatter, and I run more slowly, less frequently, and not as far. But I do have a full-time job, unlike 38% of them. If I didn’t, I’d certainly increase my mileage quite a bit — maybe even into the 70s….


  1. Good luck! I enjoyed the statistical analysis. The comparison at the end suggests that if it doesn't work out this time (though I really hope it does!), at least you have room for improvement.

  2. go Greg, GO!

  3. Good luck Doogie! Festina Lente!

  4. Greg, I enjoyed this post. The hay's in the barn. Best of luck and may you have perfect weather next Sunday (probably the largest variable required to run a sub 2:22 that can't be controlled).

  5. Well Greg you are too fat. Two pounds extra weight means a 59 seconds slower time for the half marathon (2.25 sec/mile/lb – ceteris paribus). This translates your Super Jock'n Jill 1:09:29 into a 1:08:30 ….a PR!Good Luck at Twin Cities

  6. Nice piece and good luck! Maybe you should think of yourself as Seabiscuit, whose anatomy wasn't that of a classic racehorse and who often had to lug a lot of extra weight due to handicapping but sure could deliver the goods.

  7. Thanks for the encouragement, everyone! I'll do my best.

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