Reluctant Tapering

Last Saturday, I cut my long run short, in part due to a weird twinge in my right ankle. I rested Sunday, then did my regular running commute to School Monday. This happened to coincide with my body deciding to stop fighting off the head-cold that had been lurking about the edges of my immune system for a number of days. As Monday progressed, I started feeling terrible: my head was pounding, my nose was running, I had a sore-throat. I was so miserable that I briefly considered taking the bus home. I even called M, to complain. She, as usual, was more practical than myself.

“Chris, you’re sick. Just take a damn bus.”
“But I haaaaate busses,” I wined.
“For goodness sake, its not that bad. Take a book, read. Don’t stress about it.”

I stared at the hop-stop directions telling me it would take an hour by bus, and I just couldn’t do it. For me, the sticking point is that taking the bus still involves 16 minutes of walking, so it’s not like it eliminates being on my feet. I decided to run, and while my head felt okay, my ankle started to act up again, to the point that I decided to walk the last half-mile or so.

All I can think about as I walked home, of course, was the fact that I’ve got a marathon to run in five days. I started icing my ankle Saturday night, but now I had to decide: was I going to try keeping up some semblance of training this week, or not? My ankle hurt a little but it wasn’t terrible; on the other hand, every runner knows that there is a fine but all-important difference between pushing through minor discomforts and ignoring the early warning signs of an injury. Mistaking one for the other can be costly: calling it quits every time you are uncomfortable or a joint protests pretty much eliminates you from ever running a marathon or ultra-marathon, but persisting when you have an actual injury is a sure fire way to be out of training for weeks, if not months.


I tend to run pretty smart, and have only two real injuries in six years of running. While training for my first half-marathon, I “ran through” some knee pain and messed up my right knee so bad I limped over the finish line of the Staten Island Half, and the pain kept showing up for years. Just about a 12 months ago I gave myself a pretty bad case of Achilles tendonitis when I transitioned to quickly to minimalist foot-wear, and that took about 3 months to recover from. For five years of running, that’s a pretty good track record, and its because I tend to be pretty responsible. When I start feeling an ache that doesn’t shows up on more than one run, I’m quick to break out the ice packs and scale back my runs.

The one thing I’m stubborn about is running through colds. I’ve actually done lots of research on this, and most of the articles I’ve read say that, contrary to popular opinion, exercise does not increase the intensity or the length of one’s illness: running with a head-cold has no impact on how long it takes to get better. If it moves into your lungs, or if you have a fever, running can be detrimental (or downright dangerous), but simple head-colds aren’t a reason to call of training. In my experience, forcing myself to run while sick actually makes me feel much better.

Eventually (with a little encouragement from my facebook runners — thanks, guys!) I decided to play it safe. After all, my big goal right now is my 50K in January, which is only 6 weeks away – not enough time to bounce back if I actually mess up my ankle. Since it coincided with the head-cold, that was one more reason to lay off the running for a few days. Besides, five days out from a marathon isn’t real going to make a difference one way or the other, especially when my only goals are to finish and have fun.


Right now it’s Friday night, and I haven’t run since Monday evening. The funny thing about being a habitual runner is that you start feeling like a lazy slob immediately: Tuesday night I was lamenting that it had been “so long” since I’d gone running, and then I realized it had been just over 24 hours. I have been biking to and from work everyday still, and other than Wednesday, when my cold peaked and I had to bike home in the rain with a runny nose and aching muscles, its been fine. My ankle hasn’t had any complaints (of course, I haven’t run on it) and my cold seems to be on the way out; at the very least, it should be good enough to run with on Sunday.

Thursday night I picked up my bib, shirt, and chip at a bar in Williamsburg. Since I was cramming my number pick-up between parent teacher conferences that ran until 6:30 and meeting the baby-sitter at 8, I had just enough time to bike the hour from Flatbush to Williamburg, dash in and grab my number, then bike the 20 minutes back to our place. This was unfortunate, as the bar was giving out free pints of Sixpoint beer to race participants, and Sixpoint is one of my favorite breweries. Ah well, the sacrifices we make for our children. . .


So two days left, and I don’t think I’m going to run until the race. I might do a test run tomorrow, something nice and short to see how I feel, but I don’t know. I’ve got my gels, heed, powerbar, and my two water-bottles: I want to carry as much of my own fuel and water as possible, to practice with the gear I plan to use during my 50K. I’m pretty confident, but honestly have no real predictions as to my time – I’m in much better shape than when I did my last marathon, but Prospect park has a pretty killer hill near the top, long and rather steep, and I’ve got to do it six times. I’m also interested in how it is to run a loop over and over and over. I guess we’ll find out. See you after the race!


About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
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One Response to Reluctant Tapering

  1. Nils says:

    Haha, you look so pleased in the first picture. Brimming with excitement, I can tell. 😉

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