I Miss My Sunday Long Runs! The Seamy Underbelly & Withdrawal Pangs of The Taper Phase of Training


As I ready myself for my next race and my running tapers downward I find myself in familiar but disturbing circumstances. I’m anxious. I’m moody. I wake up in the middle of the night — for me that means midnight. Succinctly put, I am suffering withdrawal symptoms that stem from not getting in my normal training.

At first I’m not sure why I feel “off” but when I remember that these are the signs and symptoms of my taper I calm down. I’m not going crazy. And within a few days, once the race is done, I’ll be back to my normal self.

During my bout with insomnia last night I took the liberty to see if I have company in this seamier side of running. And it turns out I do. In fact research has been done as early as the 1970′s that would indicate that my sleeplessness and emotional symptoms are quite common in running enthusiasts when they curtail their training. Moreover according to Michael L. Sachs (PhD), author of Too Much of a Good Thing: Running Long Distances Is A Worthy Pursuit, Unless Your Running Runs You, guilt is the number one psychological symptom of running withdrawal. Which explains why I’ve been feeling extraordinary pangs of guilt about being on my cell so much when I was with my partner a couple of days ago.

Dr. Sachs continues by postulating that this withdrawal syndrome may be symptomatic of an underlying addiction to running when accompanied by a sense of being compelled to run under any and all circumstances.

To that effect there was a running magazine a couple of years ago that had a survey for its readers. One of the questions involved a series of life events (eg. an injury, a birthday party, having to work late, etc.) that can be an impediment to getting in a training run. Of all the variables studied, only one would stop the majority of runners from running — caring for a sick child. However the corollary to this is that there is a strong minority, in this case 38% of the survey respondents, who would leave the sick tot and get their training run done. Ashamedly I’m likely in that 38% who would do laps around the block with a baby monitor strapped to my chest to keep an eye (ear) on things if trouble should arise in my absence. It’ll be a great relief for you to know that I do not have children  *PHEW*  🙂

The point of all this is that I’ve discovered that my withdrawal symptoms are normal and that I am very definitely not alone. But am I really an addict? No. When I got hurt this winter I took time off. When we have friends for a Sunday get-together I move my long run to Friday. Do I suffer from withdrawal symptoms? Yes. But a quick phone call to my partner or a text exchange with a close friend and my nerves are settled.

For me my best as an athlete comes from being healthy on all fronts. It means being well-balanced. (Dedication yes, addiction no) It means having loved ones who support me in all my craziness — which thankfully I do. After all, crossing the finish line is infinitely more rewarding when you have loved ones to share that moment with you.


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