Posted by: David Stewart | November 19, 2009

Peak Week, Monster Month, and the Terrible Taper

Are you wondering why the runner in your life seems so crabby? Read on:

Preparing to run a 26.2 mile marathon is all about tearing down the body through exercise and then using the body’s natural process of healing during rest build strength.

This stress/rest cycle should happen on a weekly cycle (with planned rest days) through the entire training program. But rest is also used to prepare for race day itself. This is done usually in a gradual reduction or “taper” from peak exercise down to race day.

So the idea is to build up to a maximum, then taper down. This results in:

  • Monster Month – the last month before your marathon taper. This usually contains the most weekly mileage, the longest long runs and the deadliest track work.
  • Peak Week – the Carnage Hall of Monster Month. The most of everything, more miles than any week during the training program.
  • The Taper – After Peak Week and Monster Month is a nice gradual reduction of effort, usually over two to three weeks.

So you can see why a runner might be a tad grumpy during Monster Month. But they ought to be much more friendly during the taper.

Not so! Even though the lower mileage and stress of the taper is a nice reprieve, the lack of running starts to take a physical and mental toll as well. Running is often a great way to absorb the excess adrenaline of modern life. Less running means runners feel the effects of stress more, until the final week when the runner’s brain is full of phantom doubts, pains and worries. The actual starting gun of the race becomes a relief!

Since I have a marathon coming up on December 6 (the California International Marathon in Sacramento), I am finally past Peak Week and on to the taper.

  • Last week’s long run was 20 miles, this week’s is 13, and on down from there.
  • Previously I would try to average 40 to 45 miles per week, with a Peak Week of 50 to 55 miles.
  • This time around, working with my coach, I have been averaging 36 – 38 miles per week with a peak of 42 miles.
  • For the past three or four marathons, I was running a lot of 20+ mile long runs, sometimes as many as 5!
  • This time, my coach only has me doing a single 20 miler.

In spite of fewer miles run, and fewer “20s”, my times have actually been improving far better than before. And I don’t feel like I’m constantly aching from running. And as an added bonus, I think I am probably less snarky.

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