15 taper commandments: learning how to rest

Eight days out from Brighton Marathon and again, I’m on a running ban until race day. This happened last year, I got all the way to the taper, and a previously unproblematic hip decided to come out to play and put me out for two weeks until race day.

This time it’s that very same hip, and the opposite knee. Or is it the hamstring? IT band? Let’s cut to the chase and give Tess some new legs, yeah?

I’m not letting the maranoia get me. I can do this. 

I’ve run just twice in the last two weeks, once was the surprisingly enjoyable 20 miler once I’d got over the initial slow start and found my second wind (thank you Biffy Clyro). The other was last Sunday’s windy, uncomfortable faff-fest of a run that I bailed on after nearly 8.5 miles. I swear I’ve never faffed so much with my earphones in all my life, it was infuriatingly ridiculous.

My legs were heavy and sore, which really puzzled me as I hadn’t actually been able to run all week. Looking back on the week’s training leading up to it I did have a core and yoga class, tough gym session, aborted midweek run and then a 15mile cycle with three reps of the formidable Ditchling Beacon before attempting last Sunday’s penultimate long run before race day.

Add a mental headwind to that with the accumulative fatigue of three months’ training and it’s no wonder I had a shit time. I spent the rest of that week with twingey knees, a tight hip and the sorest hamstrings ever known to man.

This wasn’t just DOMS. This was proper, actual pain, and I was scared.

Brighton Marathon Training - Tess Agnew - photo by Mark West
A smiley Tess 12 miles into my 20miler – papped by Mark West

Enough is enough

The question is, how do we know when that persistent ‘niggle’ of ours is enough of a concern to call the physio?

Going from one gym session, long ride or marathon training cycle to the next,
it’s inevitable to pick up a few aches and pains along the way.
 But what do we do when it’s real pain that we’re dealing with, not just that satisfying dose of DOMS after a good workout?

You’d be pretty lucky to get through a whole 16 weeks of marathon training without a few niggles or injuries, however insignificant you might try to make them feel. I’m as guilty as the rest of us for training through
it, hoping it’ll go away on its own after a bit of rest, or I’ll
 listen to my body and adjust my schedule to allow recovery and do something else like cycling, or circuits. 

Sometimes though, that’s not enough.

My amazingly patient physio, Tom Goom, at The Physio Rooms in Brighton, has dealt with my stubbornness and varying levels of maranoia for two seasons now, and he reckons in general: if in doubt, get checked out.

“Minor aches and pains
that settle quickly not usually anything to worry about but consistent problems,
severe pain or injury that prevents you running or training should be checked
out. Signs of tissue damage such as swelling, bruising, reduced joint range of
movement or sensations of giving way are also warning signs to seek
professional advice.”

I *might* have ignored the twingey knees for a little more than a week, and I *might* have noticed my right knee felt swollen after the 20 miler. My hamstrings are always tight, so what if I couldn’t straighten my leg with cramp one morning this week, and haven’t been able to sit at my desk without shooting pains up my legs?

The hardest thing to do

I’m a very stubborn person – when I’m training for something, all I see is the end goal and I’ll damn well get there, whatever it takes. I still sometimes fall back into my old habits of pushing these warning signs to the back of my mind and not admitting the truth. I’m also completely in love with addicted to exercise, and maybe I rely on it for my wellbeing a bit too much. 

If I can’t run I look for other ways to get that endorphin fix. I’ll go for a long ride instead. Can I go to the gym? What about bikram or a swim? Surely I can’t just do nothing??

But sometimes, doing nothing is exactly what I need, to let my body have the time to recover, and for me, that’s the hardest lesson to learn. I mean to completely rest. As in nothing. NO EXERCISE. No running, no cycling, no gym, swim, boxing or circuits. Nada. 

That’s a hard thing to do, that is. 

I realised recently that I don’t ever actually have a complete rest day, because I cycle to work every weekday. It might only be a five or six mile round trip but there are a couple of hills in there and I’m not gonna lie, I do like to push hard on my beautiful, fast roadie. 

15 taper commandments

Next week I’m running a marathon, and right now my legs hate me. So that means the next seven days are all about rest, recovery, and relaxation. Then: repeat.

Art Therapy Magazine - Tess Agnew
Fruits of a few evenings’ labour – from Art Therapy Magazine

I do solemnly swear that for the next seven days:

  1. I shall not run. 
  2. I shall not cycle. 
  3. I shall not do legs at the gym. 
  4. I shall not doubt myself. 
  5. I shall not let the maranoia get me. 
  6. I will swim. 
  7. I will walk to work with my favourite songs in my ears. 
  8. I will colour in between the lines. 
  9. I will meditate. 
  10. I will feed my inner yogi. 
  11. I will eat and not feel guilty. 
  12. I will go to bed at 10pm every night. 
  13. I will embrace the impending adrenalin that will flood my veins and fill my stomach with butterflies.
  14. I will buy camomile tea and have hot baths to combat this.  
  15. I will be ready


Do you find it difficult to rest or am I alone here? What are your strategies for beating maranoia in the final taper weeks? 

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