Marathon Taper Guilt

marathon taper guilt: a runner lays on the ground eating cookies instead of trainingMe: “After Boston, I’m going to get in shape.”

My husband: “You do know how ridiculous that statement is, right?”

Me: “Yes. But I mean it.”

My husband: “Ok, as long as you’re aware.”

It happens every time during my marathon taper. Every. Time.

Let’s rewind for a moment though. There you are a few months ago, staring at your computer screen, credit card clutched in your hand, you double check that you chose the correct race distance and t-shirt size and you hit submit. There. It’s done. You are signed up for your new goal race. Visions of race perfection dance through your head. You make your “new training cycle resolution”: this time you’ll behave; this time you’ll be the clean eating, strength training, cross training, stretching, tempo running fool you’ve always known you can be! Things go perfectly  for the first two weeks and then the reality that you have a life and responsibilities sets in. While you might generally stick to the plan, that image of the perfect you slowly fades through the weeks until taper when it hits you:

Marathon taper guilt.

Marathon taper guilt is not the taper blues or the taper crazies that everyone talks about. It’s that feeling that you didn’t do everything you were supposed to do to get ready for the race. You didn’t eat the way you were supposed to eat. You drank more beer than you said would. Improve your core strength? Yeah you hit the snooze alarm every morning rather than getting those five minutes of core work in every day. And why again did you skip some workouts to run easy with friends? Oh, and weren’t you going to start stretching this cycle?! And the foam roller, the last time you saw that thing one of the kids was running around the house pretending it was a horse. How will you ever know your full potential if you don’t do everything you’re supposed to do?

Supposed to. When we’re in the middle of marathon taper and looking back on those dozen or more weeks it’s easy to fixate on what we were supposed to do, but didn’t. It’s easy to beat ourselves up over our training imperfections and feel guilty about it.

Maybe the marathon taper guilt problem starts the moment we choose a race. Do we pick goals that we, being the perfectly imperfect people that we are in reality, can actually achieve or do we pick goals that only the imaginary perfect version of ourselves can achieve? Maybe we need to set goals that don’t require 36 hours in each day. Maybe we need to be more self-aware and – gasp! – realistic.

Perhaps the issue is that we want the achievement of our running goals to follow logically upon the completion of a laundry list of things we’re supposed to do. But what we’re supposed to do and what we’re actually realistically capable of don’t always match up and, perhaps more importantly, even if we did all those things, there is no guarantee we’d meet our goals anyway. As Oregano put it last week:

marathon taper guilt: a runner drinks a beer while acknowledging to the broccoli that she didn't eat the way she swore she would during marathon training. It would be nice if training was totally prescriptive and the same things worked for the same people at all of the different times in their lives, but I guess this isn’t true and we all just have to struggle along doing what we love and working around all of the good and bad obstacles and challenges and opportunities that come up.

Here’s the deal: marathon taper guilt doesn’t have to be a thing. It’s something we manufacture when we hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard. We work hard and we expect to see results from that hard work. While the concept that checking items off our training to-do list will magically lead to our marathon dream time is comforting, this concept is both false and leads to marathon taper guilt when we look back and see we didn’t check everything off our list during the training cycle. All we can do is the best training we can do and hope it pays off in the end.

Sure, it’s frustrating that we can’t boil training down to checklist, but it’s good because that also means we can defy the odds and do well despite not doing everything we’re supposed to. As Pimento once said, “This is the one aspect of my life that I still hope for a little magic on race day. That has nothing to do with logic.”

Have you ever experienced marathon taper guilt? 

I'm a running mom of two little girls, who is busy balancing life, work and marathon training. It's always training season for me because I'm on a quest to run a marathon in every state, while constantly striving to be the best runner I can be. Running has led me to some great adventures and I always have a good story to share!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


    1. I’m currently in the honeymoon phase of training where I am going totally overboard with the strength training and core work. It’ll all blow up in the next week or so I’m sure!

  1. Just started a new training cycle and I have already failed in my quest to only drink wine on weekends. But so far so good on the 5 minutes of core work every morning!

    1. hooray for the 5 minutes! For awhile i was rewarding myself with stickers like a little kid when ever I did strength work. My children got angry and took the stickers back.. that’s my excuse anyway!

  2. Every training cycle I seem to let one thing slide that I can then worry about during taper. Doing the tempo runs, high mileage and core work/strength-training this time like a boss, but because I’m doing all that I’m hungry and thirsty for wine alllll the time. Impossible to do it all 🙂

    1. I think I’m going to try and focus on just one weakness a training cycle, maybe that’s the key to sticking with it?

  3. I’m totally going through this right now. I am feeling heavy, regretting all the sweets and chips I’ve even in the last weeks of training. Why oh why must we do this to ourselves? Why must 4 miles feel so hard a few days before 26.2?!