And so it begins.
The countdown. The mental workup. The downward spiral into complete and utter anxiety. Oh yes, I'm tapering.
Now, before this summer if someone had told me I was "tapering" I would have checked my behind to make sure I hadn't tucked the toilet seat cover into my jeans before walking out of the bathroom. I am now schooled on most terms running-related and have been waiting for the taper for weeks. It's the homestretch to the big day when you give your body the physical and mental rest it needs. That means shorter Saturday runs and an overall consciousness at all times as to how your body and mind is feeling.
It also means I'm totally freaking out.
To the taper in a moment. But first, I had on Saturday what is most likely my last really long run before the marathon. It was also the last long run where we'd meet at 7am. Earlier this summer, Ramon gave us the option of meeting at 7am or 8:30am. We jumped at the earlier option, even though it sounded painful. (And for those of you who I have familiarized with my morning schedule ... dude, I'm getting up at like 5am on Saturday. What the what?!) But it felt good to be finished just when the Manhattan summer sun was starting to cook, so we considered this a luxury.
But I will miss those quiet walks from my apartment to CP. Okay, so I have to stay alert for a couple of blocks to make sure I'm not getting clubbed over the head if it's still a little dark out, but it's a small price to pay to seemingly have the city all to myself for a few precious moments. I took advantage of my 20-minute walk to show you something you don't see often in New York City:
Okay, it's a bit dark but I guess that's the point. This would be the Met on 5th Avenue. And there is not a soul in front of it. No cars anywhere down 5th ...
And one of my favorite stretches ... the tree-lined path lining the park:
And empty benches that will be crammed later ... but for now, only see the occasional pooch who is allowed to be off-leash before 7am:
Some would say it's surreal, as if there's something amiss in the city. Me? I like to think the city and I are sharing a secret before the masses stir hours later. I am seeing only the beauty of her rather than dodging pedestrians or avoiding planting my heel in doggie doo. There are no cars honking for me to get out of the way, no cyclists whizzing down the streets. I get to watch the shopkeepers turn on their lights and sweep their sidewalks and I actually smell fresh bread baking without it being masked by the stench from a garbage truck nearby. Sometimes I listen to the sounds of New York waking up and sometimes I throw a good playlist on my Ipod (oh, and if I'm doing the former rather than the latter, it's usually because of the whole clubbing over the head thing). Saturday, I thought a little Miles Davis ... from "Kind of Blue" was appropriate.
These past few months have allowed me a new appreciation for my city. I've been able to concentrate fully on how breathtaking she can be. She and I have had a great understanding for one another this summer; I'm a little heartbroken our special time together is coming to an end.
'Cause, come on, peeps ... once this marathon thing is over I am hard pressed to get my ass out of bed on a Saturday before 9.
So anyway, none of us was totally stoked for a series of loops in the park to equal our 20. Instead, TNTer Rose suggested a run over to Randall's Island, do a couple of loops and come back. I'll spare all the deets only because I left the camera at bag watch AND I mean, we finished, I'm alive, how different can that run be than the others before it?
Elkin and I were together; Babs did her run on Staten Island and Javi ... well, Javi's 23. We cannot expect him to show up for a 20-mile run on Saturday morning at 7am. (He later admitted he slept in but dutifully finished his run later that morning). But Elk and I banged out 20 miles on the button.
(And Elkin will think I am remiss for not adding why that was "on the button." When we got back to bag-watch, we were only at 19.75. My OCD was in full force and I made Elkin run another quarter mile down the hill and back to make 20 miles. Alas, the second time back only gave me 19.95, so I ran in circles around bag check until I had clocked 20 miles even. The TNTers stretching looked at me like I had five heads. I looked like a rabid dog, only minus the foaming mouth. I am not sure I will be allowed at Tuesday's practice.)
But we finished strong and Rose (who is a mentor for the Nike marathon) and I started talking about what to expect in the coming weeks as we taper.
Elkin, on the other hand:
Hee hee! I love this picture. Every week.
Well, since Elkin is doing the New York, he has a couple more weeks. He will most likely taper sometime after us.
(I had nothing significant to add about this picture. I just liked it).
But there was something palpably different when we finished on Saturday. Physically and mentally I am supposed to have peaked. At this point, 20.55 is my longest run ... and I will do no longer until marathon day. What in God's name am I supposed to do before then? A part of me is totally afraid I will spaz out (as I am wont to do) and just eat eclairs for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 3 weeks, washed down with margaritas. I'll sidle up to the corral on October 18th, 10-pounds heavier, skin full of acne and my body and psyche both in bad need of a detox.
I'm just sayin'. It could happen.
Everyone says the taper is all about taking care of your body and keeping your mental game sharp. I guess eclairs and margies aside, I'm more worried about my mental game. I was obsessing about it already after our run Saturday when we came across this leaving the park:
It's a cool 1-miler qualifying race down 5th Avenue. By the by, dude in front? Hauling. Anyhoo, I was walking with Rose and Elkin and when the rest of them started running past us:
(Cool shot, no?) we all cheered and yelled encouraging things to them. Then Rose yelled to a group of slower runners at the back, "Nice job, you guys! There are people who gave up and walked it but you're giving it everything!!"
So it makes sense. The taper isn't about giving it up and walking, it's about preparing to give it everything on the day you have to.
On Sunday, our little group took advantage of a great football lineup and got together for something other than running. (Oh yes, Ramon. This was misbehavin')
And being with my new friends, I pondered. Maybe the taper freaks me out not because I am not prepared for the event, but because I am not prepared for what comes after. This has been a life-changing experience in so many ways and perhaps I'm simply not ready for it to end.
There will never again be a first time for me. I've wandered into this with wide eyes, drinking it all in and absorbing it like a sponge. I'll never again have that pure experience, and I'm wistful.
As Babs and I were leaving the bar Sunday night to share a cab uptown, I turned to her and asked her if she would still run with me on Saturdays after our marathon was over. Of course, she responded she would. But I think we both knew it just wouldn't be the same.
For now, I'm taking every second of it in, knowing that - as my boy Frank put it so well - the best is yet to come.