The Marathon Runner’s Secret to High Performance

Saturday, I ran 9.3 miles (15 kilometers) training for my next race, the Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon in less than two weeks. I won’t be doing any heavy training after this run, although I still haven’t trained to 13.1 miles, the length of the race. There’s a reason for that, one that at first makes no sense, but is very sage advice. Longer distance runners, half marathon, marathon, and ultra-marathon, have a practice called tapering. About two weeks before a big race, they drop off their training to very light exercise. You’d think that the best idea would be to train all the time up to a big race, but there’s a problem with that: Muscles need time to recover. Every week during training, runners beat up their leg muscles on long runs. While working out all week, they take all week to recover them enough to beat them up 10% more the next week. Yet, the muscles are still damaged and haven’t fully recovered from all that pounding. For the optimal use of those muscles, the runner lets them recover for two weeks before a race,  while preventing an injury during that time. Tapers are not easy. Tapers are saying stop the hard work and do only easy work. That sounds wrong: should we work as hard as we can to be the best? All this easy stuff is not helping it seems and can frustrate runners, who often are very cranky during a taper.  It is a time for recovery from training so the runner does their best in a race. We need tapers from big work projects too. We often get too intense on them. After all, people are paying us to do so.  Yet like the avoidance of injury for a runner, dropping a big project for a week or two may prevent burnout. The time away ejects and heals a bad idea that you might be stuck on and able to move forward faster after the break on the project. Our brains need a break, and the world of productivity. Based on the actions of machines, not people, we want to work harder, which in the end slows us down.  So take that break for two weeks. Work on something else entirely if you can, or work on some less important details for the project.  You might move faster than you expect.  

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