Running on Tilt

Taper Time

Ryan Hall and Eric Liddell

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The last time an American was the women’s winner at the Boston Marathon was 1985; the last time an American male won was 1983. Either of those 20-plus-year dry spells could end on Monday, as Kara Goucher and Ryan Hall are among the favorites.

In the film Chariots of Fire, the late Scottish actor Ian Charleson who plays the Scottish hero Eric Liddell, says “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” The line is echoed by Ryan Hall in a video of a recent training run. Hall says there are “moments when I feel God running in me.”

Whether or not he feels God running in him on Monday, Hall himself will be running in shoes made by Hitoshi Mimura, who for 42 years worked for Asics. Mimura recently retired from Asics and, according to a blog titled Japan Running News, plans to open his own line of running shoes, Mimura Shoes.

Kara Goucher will be wearing Nike’s.

Hall states that on the night before big races he watches the film The Passion of the Christ. During the London Marathon, as he struggled late in the race, he had flashbacks of the movie—he says that he could see the ribs of Christ bare for the lashes He took for him.

Whatever else Hall is doing on the night before Boston, and whatever Kara Goucher is doing, they certainly aren’t running. Conventional runner wisdom is that marathoners should cut back drastically in their mileage the week before a race, and run scant if any miles the day beforehand. This puts race day at odds with most deadlines, in which the workload increases in the days or hours leading up to the event. Imagine not being allowed to clean the day before a guest arrives. You can’t cram for a marathon.

The logic behind tapering is that heavy running shortly before the race will not add to aerobic fitness, or that any such gains would be far outweighed by muscle soreness and general fatigue on race day. While it is inarguably important to be fresh on race day, the trick with tapering is keeping the mental edge. It’s easy to feel like Tarzan during peak loads of training. If you doubt your fitness on race day, though, after cutting down on the mileage, you are already at a disadvantage. You need to trust your training.

This is one benefit of a training log. You see that you have run x-number of miles over a course of months, thus you must be in shape, even if you haven’t run much lately.

One wrinkle I’ve added to my approach this time is that as my mileage decreases, I’m increasing my sit-ups and pushups. Having more core strength, or at least thinking I do, could help over the last six or so miles when retaining one’s form becomes difficult.

Today I completed my last long run before next Sunday’s race in Big Sur. I ran two five-mile loops in Central Park, the first with my sister, and the second, in an attempt to simulate marathon race pace, on my own. I ran the second loop in 7:22 per mile, a bit slower than my hope for race day.

Shortly prior to each of my two previous marathons, I watched Chariots of Fire; this year, watching the Boston Marathon online could provide inspiration. That the event will even be streamed online bodes well for the sport in general. The newspaper USA Today ran a front-page article on Hall last week. If Hall or Goucher should win, the morning and late-night television circuit seems likely. Imagine Saturday Night Live scripted for a marathon runner.