The sufferer will become withdrawn and uncommunicative, but still at the same time “whiny”. This is the first sign that the plague may be upon them. She responds to even the simplest enquiries with a curt announcement that she’s “not feeling well”. There may well be sniffles at this point. The patient is usually convinced that nobody has suffered like this… ever. In this condition, she regards her temperature as a crucial barometer of her health and insists that it receives constant monitoring. Her enthusiasm in describing her symptoms in detail is astonishing. But why is it when Molly, my 6 year old daughter, has a temperature and is too unwell to go to school she is still never sick enough just to lie in bed and not be irritating. I don’t mind looking after her (most of the time) and I do want her to get better. But is she contagious, because its only two weeks to the Dublin marathon and contracting any kind of sickness at this stage could be potentially disastrous. During the hard miles of marathon training the tapering period, which usually starts two or three weeks before the race is the time that hopeful marathoners look forward to, tapering is the last step in most training programmes. Tapering begins immediately after the most intense period of training- the longest runs, the greatest weekly mileages and for this reason. After an intensive training period like this immunity may be suppressed, meaning it might be easier for viruses and bacteria to take hold, increasing the risk for infection and sickness (Nieman et al., 1990; Nieman, 2000). But sickness is not the only potential problem of tapering. The practice of decreasing the distance and length of workouts gives the body time to rest and recover before the race. But as many find out this is a tough time for the mind because “Taper Madness” kicks in. This is eractic, irrational and paranoid behaviour that intensifies with each day as the marathon gets closer. It doesn’t make sense to do less, it feels wrong and it seems counterintuitive. No one is safe from taper madness! Whether it’s the first or hundredth marathon, the constant worry about mysterious aches and pains and a fear of deterioration in fitness affects all runners. The chief aim of the taper period is to allow the body to recover from the accumulated fatigue of heavy training, rather than to achieve any additional physiological adaptations or improvements. It restores levels of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones–all depleted by high mileage– to optimal levels. The muscle damage that occurs during sustained training is also repaired, resulting in improved muscle strength. An effective taper results in an enhancement in performance of between 3 – 6% which may translate to somewhere between 5 to 15 minutes in a marathon (Mujika & Padilla, 2003). The tough physical aspect of training is now finished, trust the training. It is time to realise that the madness is entrenched in the mind rather than body, but that’s easier to state rather than live, especially as I feel like putting my six year old in quarantine.
Mujika I & Padilla S. (2003). Scientific bases for precompetition tapering strategies. Med Sci Sports Exerc 35, 1182-1187.
Nieman DC. (2000). Special feature for the Olympics: effects of exercise on the immune system: exercise effects on systemic immunity. Immunol Cell Biol 78, 496-501.
Nieman DC, Johanssen LM, Lee JW & Arabatzis K. (1990). Infectious episodes in runners before and after the Los Angeles Marathon. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 30, 316-328.