Full Hearts – And Their Taper Tantrums
Written by Esther Erb Atkins
It’s a good thing my husband, Cole, went back to North Carolina for these last 2 weeks before the Trials because this is the worst time to be around me.
When you’re used to running a lot and then all of a sudden you have to run a lot less, not only do you have all this extra energy, but you’re also way more nervous than usual and your brain chemistry gets thrown through a loop!
These are some of the many personalities that rear their ugly heads during my taper:
I get choked up daily – podcasts, Facebook posts, songs on the radio, pictures of my sister’s kids or my neighbor’s dog – anything is fair game.
I think everybody is trying to pick a fight with me. “That lady at the grocery store totally knew I wanted that box of Wheat Thins – NOT any of the other 27 boxes.”
Death Row Inmate
“This is my last depletion run!” “My last run on this sketchy bike path.” Last night I got sentimental about walking to my last Pilates class. Yeah, about the class, too, but about the walk…and more specifically about how I’ll miss the sandy dirt in Florida that we don’t have in the mountains. Wait, what??
I think everything is going to hurt me. I’m afraid of every crack in the sidewalk, thinking it’s going to jump up and bite my legs off. I walk slowly and jump every time I hear a dog bark.
I think everything is wrong with me. My hip feels weird – I must have MS. Is this mascara giving me an eye infection? My face is sweating – must be the flu. My knee hurts – yep, it’s quadricep cancer (the silent killer).
I have weird cravings during marathon tapers. Sometimes it’s candy or ice cream, sometimes it’s cottage cheese or pickles. Can you say “stress eating”?
If I can’t sleep, I am not happy about it. And with all that extra energy from not running plus all the extra emphasis on recovery (i.e. sleep), I’m mad when I’m lying in bed with my mind going 100mph.
Here are some of the methods that help me calm these guys down:
Obviously, I go through the Pre-Race Self Check-in I detailed in my last blog. That certainly has helped me to turn down some of that back-burner stress that raises my base-line stress level. And if I feel the heat rising again, I’ll always return to the check-in sheet and either add to it or just read over the assertions I’ve already made. That usually helps to calm down the Tough Guy.
The Cookie Monster has a terrible sweet tooth, but I still know how terrible sugar is for all of us, even in the best shape of our lives. So I prioritize my sugar sources, take the top and leave the rest until after the race. Basically this means my dessert is dark chocolate chips with or without plain yogurt or Cocoa Elite.
To cut down on sugar even more and enhance the calming effect of the polyphenols, my favorite Cocoa Elite drink is a blend of half a scoop of Unsweetened Cocoa with 1 full scoop of their Recovery Protein. I’ll usually shake it up in a couple ounces of room temperature water and then add 8oz of hot water. Or if it’s post-long run or post-workout, I’ll go with the standard 2 scoops of Recovery Protein shaken in a bottle of water. Yum!
My favorite cheap dark chocolate is Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate chips. Chocolate bars always lead me to eating the whole thing in a sitting, but chips can be munched on a few at a time and for some reason I can control myself a little better.
As for the Crybaby and the Death Row Inmate, a weird part of me actually really likes these guys. I think it comes from the fact that we’ve been focused on one day for months, and it’s had to imagine life on the other side. Maybe for some people it’s better to have that kind of built-up tension, but it can also become too much. I heard a great interview on On Being with Krista Tippett where she interviewed Ellen Langer, a specialist in Modern Mindfulness. In her interview, Dr. Langer said this, which stuck with me:
“If you are doing something that is difficult, and you say to yourself, “What am I so worried about? What are the positive things that could happen by my not completing this?” Or, “How can I make this into a game?” “Why is it that I think my life depends on whatever this thing is?” … As soon as that — people live a life that is ongoing, but treat it as if whatever’s happening at the moment is the last opportunity they’re going to have.”
The Insomniac is born out of the fact that I’m not running as much, so I have more energy, but my mind is racing with nerves and my metabolism is still revving from all that fitness. I actually find that stocking up on solid carb-filled midnight snacks actually help a ton. Often what’s waking me up in the first place is the fact that I’m a little hungry, and then my mind is what keeps me from falling back asleep. I almost never have sleeping problems otherwise, but there were at least 3 nights the week of the 2014 US Marathon Championships that I woke up and eventually resorted to eating a Chocolate Brownie Clif Bar to put myself back to sleep. Another thing that might help, as I’ve mentioned before, is reducing caffeine intake during that final week to make sure that your race morning coffee gives you an extra kick! And if you’re an addict like I was, consider switching to decaf, or you can benefit from the calming polyphenols along with a minimal caffeine from Cocoa Elite.
The Hypochondriac and Scaredy Cat are the toughest. Of course they serve a purpose – to keep me healthy, but I’m pretty sure that fixating on every little sign of illness or injury can also mess with my head and make me believe things are wrong with me that aren’t. On that note, I’ll leave you with 2 more nuggets from that Ellen Langer interview:
“My belief is that our beliefs are not inconsequential. It’s not that they matter a little. That they’re almost the only thing that does matter.
. . .
One of the things that we might do, when we’re so worried about what’s going to happen in the future, is to think about all the times we worried in the past and the thing didn’t happen.”
Yeah, these multiple personalities are tough to keep up with at times, but their presence also indicate that I care. In a way, they all tell me that I’m entering the competition with a full heart.
On my last 24-miler, I listened to another On Being interview with David Steindl-Rast, whose major message to the world is about gratefulness, gratitude, and thanksgiving. This is how he describes thanksgiving:
“We all know from experience that moments in which this gratitude wells up in our hearts are experienced first as if something were filling up within us, filling with joy, really. But not yet articulate. And then it comes to a point where the heart overflows and we sing, and we thank somebody, and for that I like a different term. And then I call that “thanksgiving.””
So all these nerves are just my heart filling up with joy and gratitude. Gratefulness for this opportunity to test my own limits – to sing and thanks somebody. The Olympic Trials are our harvest. Our thanksgiving!