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How To 'Endure' the Taper: Countdown to the New York City Marathon

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10 days until the New York City Marathon.

With less than two weeks to go before the 2011 ING New York City Marathon (holy freakout mode), it's time to taper. Before I decided to run the marathon earlier this year, I had no idea what tapering even meant in terms of running and how in the world decreasing my training two weeks early was actually going to help me be as fit as possible for race day. It all seemed a little counterproductive to me.

It's just like last month, when my mom couldn't understand why I never did a marathon "dress rehearsal" during training.

"What do you mean?" she asked when I explained that 20 miles would be the most I would run during my training. "When do you do the marathon before the marathon -- you know -- to make sure you can actually do it?"

"I don't," I said. She still looked confused, so my brother Mike chimed in.

"Because running 26.2 miles is not actually good for a person," he said.

"Oh," she said with a look of concern, wondering what her favorite daughter had gotten herself into.

But these are the rules of running as my newbie self understands them. So as a soon-to-be first-time marathoner, I will obey them all. This weekend was my last double-digit run -- an easy 11 miles to practice the end of the marathon course, from the Queensboro Bridge to the finish line in Central Park (excluding the Bronx). Who am I? "An easy 11-miler?" Remember when I hadn't run more than six miles ever in my life before this summer? Now that all my training is basically done and my body is pleading to give it a break, I plan on doing just that.

Team In Training Coach Christine already warned us that the tapering process can sometimes be tough.

"You'll probably feel tempted to run longer and harder during this time," she said in our weekly email. "But you must resist the urge. You're not going to make any fitness improvements with two weeks to go."

So what will I be doing with all this free time over the next ten days when I'm usually out there pounding the pavement?

Hopefully, I will be getting lots of sleep, eating super healthy, checking the 10-day weather forecast obsessively, catching up on thank you notes to all of those who have donated to my fundraising efforts for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (today is the last day to donate!), stocking up on my strawberry and tropical punch CLIF Shot Bloks and Byrne Dairy "World Famous" chocolate milk (yes, after months of post-run taste-tests, I've determined that this is my favorite), booking a post-marathon massage and, of course, running a little bit, too.

Most importantly though -- at least for me -- I'll be getting myself pumped up. I was never a cheerleader, but I do still remember all of the words to my high school soccer team's chants that we would scream to intimidate the other teams. As a lifelong athlete, I thrive on those thrills (and nerves) you feel before a big game and I'm approaching the New York City Marathon the same way. So these next ten days will be my pre-marathon pep rally as I gather as many sources of motivation and inspiration I can get my hands on:

• I'll be thinking about all of those people who I am running this race for, including family friend Mr. Miller, who passed away this summer; my friend Sergio, a Hodgkin's Lymphoma survivor; and the entire extended TNT community, who have shared their inspiring stories with us throughout training.

• I'll be reading A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York by Liz Robbins (with a highlighter so I can mark passages I especially love), recommended as the book to read right before race day. And I won't be ashamed when I tear up as I read it on the train... since that already happened this morning.

• I'll be getting my ultimate marathon playlist for race day. Tweet me your favorite running jamz. Beyoncé is obviously at the top of the list.

• I'll be picking out my outfit for race day, writing my name (maybe doing a little BeDazzling, too) all over my purple singlet, and painting my nails a super jazzy purple in honor of LLS. Yup, these are the things that matter to me.

• I'll be replacing my usual Friday Night Lights in my Netflix queue with running movies, like Run For Your Life and Spirit of the Marathon. And watching this video daily.

• And I'll be figuring out who is going to buy me this awesome Erica Sara necklace (which I first saw on Ali on the Run, another favorite running blog). Hint, hint, friends!

This weekend, I got a head start and scooped up a healthy dose of inspiration from an unexpected place -- Brooklyn. After our 11-miler, my homegirl and running buddy Caitlin and I went to Park Slope to catch ENDURE: A Run Woman Show, an outdoor, immersive, interactive theater-dance-run performance in Prospect Park, created and performed by Melanie Jones.

Confused? So were we when we first saw the preview video of the show. I was a little unsure what to expect -- this woman looked seriously nuts (and she is, but in the best way possible, I assure you). Then again, aren't all of us runners a little nutty? I just had to see what this was all about.

Endure from Rachael Harrington on Vimeo.

Before the show begins, each audience member is given their ticket (a race bib) and an iPod -- synched up to an absolutely beautiful soundtrack by Swedish-Danish composer Christine Owman and a narrative by Jones. Upon entering the park, you meet Jones, and from there, the race is on. Over the course of the 75-minute show, she leads you on a physical journey (about 3 miles) -- walking and running around the park, down hills, through the trails, and among the park's very confused-looking picnickers, who have no idea what this motley group of people with iPods is doing chasing around a super-fit lady in running gear. But we runners are used to being outside of our comfort zone -- after all, we dress for function, not fashion -- so we're not a group that embarrasses very easily.

The story we're hearing through the earbuds is Jones' own -- a unique love story, about love for others, for running, and ultimately, for self -- using the length of a 26.2 mile marathon (or a 42K for Canadian-born Jones) as metaphor. Jones says she created ENDURE in 2008 as a gift to runners, premiered it this summer in Brooklyn, toured in her hometown of Calgary and then brought it back to New York for the fall.

"I had this idea that runners could make up a theater audience," says Jones. "And that I could tell their own story, their myths of the marathon, in a way that not only connects, but makes them feel validated. Running can be incredibly isolating, so this was an opportunity to create a community around that."

And that's exactly what you feel like as the show unfolds -- a member of "the tribe called runners" -- all in on this great inside joke. Caitlin and I nodded along knowingly as Jones performed a scene rehashing the conversations that all of us marathoners have probably had countless times:

...the cocktail parties where someone says: 'A marathon? That's crazy. You're crazy. Why would you put yourself through that?' And there's no small talk way to say that this burning sensation right here in my legs means I survived it, so I just say 'it's fun' and shrug my shoulders. Shrug it off, hoping they don't keep asking questions, which they will because now I'm the freak show act of the cocktail party. And when the tray of greasy appetizers comes around, they say, 'Oh, none for you, you're in TRAINING,' in that way that makes me want to punch them in the neck. 'You're in TRAAAAAAAining.' And I want to say: 'I've already burned enough calories today to warrant six trays of those saturated fat balls...'

During the show, I just kept thinking, "Man, she gets it." In the words of Caitlin, Jones is "one of the raddest chicks I've ever met" and a total rockstar (a writer, actress, dancer by trade; four-time marathoner and Ironwoman, to boot). I think we both might have a girl-crush on her.

When I asked Jones what her moment of conversion was, when she really knew she was a runner, she could recall the exact run.

"It was an early morning run along the river, the sun was coming through the trees and I just felt like the best version of myself," she says. "I started to understand that the physical strength I was creating in my body was also mentally and emotionally empowering me. And that to me, was just beautiful -- to realize that you can craft your own experience, that you can (pardon the pun), go the distance."

All I can say is preach it, sister. At ENDURE, I felt this kinship to her -- to all runners -- and it came out in a full range of emotion. I laughed, I cried, I laughed so hard I cried, but it all felt fitting since I'm sure I will be feeling those exact emotions as I run my own 26.2 and make my own marathon story. As Jones says, "all of humanity shows up out there on the road," which she illustrated in this powerful narrative -- while running wind sprints:

...But training for a marathon is mostly a slog. I wake up tired and think 'oh, God another run' or 'I'm scared I can't do it.' Because even though I run farther than anyone else I know, it doesn't mean I think I can do it. Maybe they think I wake up brimming over with confidence about my amazing athletic abilities but I'm constantly outside my comfort zone which means I never feel comfort. And I am getting stronger, I just don't feel stronger because my workouts get harder and the long runs get longer. So I always feel like I'm reaching and grasping, falling on my face. And it isn't until I go for a run with someone else and realize my pace is ripping their legs off or when I run into friends on the pathway and they're doing 6K and I'm doing 16 and this is before dinner -- holy crap that's amazing -- who have I become...

I've been so go, go, go these past few months, that other than writing this blog once a week or so, I haven't taken a lot of time to reflect on the craziness that has become my life and how much this training has changed me... for the better. ENDURE allowed me to take an hour or so and take a deeper look -- something beneficial for runners and non-runners alike.

So to anyone running the New York City Marathon this year, anyone running any fall marathon, anyone who has ever run, anyone who has ever wanted to run, and anyone who has ever just seen another person run. Ahem, that means everyone: You must buy tickets for this show. Right. Now.

With all of this inspiration pumping inside of me, I feel proud. I feel brave. I feel totally capable of rocking out 26.2 miles in 10 days. And I'm ready to pay it forward, too, by hopefully inspiring others to push their own limits and understand they are capable of extraordinary things. As Jones says in ENDURE, and something I truly believe (because I'm also nuts), "running for three hours makes you a better person." Except in my case, it might be more like four and a half hours on race day -- hopefully. Looks like running 26.2 miles might actually be good for a person, Mike.

Click here to read more "Countdown to the New York City Marathon" blogs.
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