Downhill Race Prep: alas, the taper.

The best part of retirement is that you can determine your own schedule. No alarm clock, there’s time for an afternoon nap, and entire days can be dedicated to reading a book, watching movies, or working in the garden, if that’s all you really want to do. It’s just lovely.

Hurricane Matthew started pouring rain on our house at 5:00am – although the radar didn’t realize it was raining here for hours.

The alarm was set for 5:30a on Saturday. We had studied the weather patterns and plotted a strategy to maneuver last Saturday’s 20-mile run around the backlash of Hurricane Matthew. The key was getting an early start. By the time I accepted that the run had been rained out it was 6:30a, we had already had our coffee, and I had already been wearing my running clothes for a solid hour.

The new strategy for adding miles to the beginning of the run included an 8-mile stretch on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s a beautiful place to run – were it not for the hills. (Photo taken through my Jeep window while scouting the new route.)

The alarm was set for 5:30a on Sunday. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, it was a pleasant 40 degrees, the wind was steady at 15mph with gusts strong enough to blow me over, and my fall running gear is packed up in boxes somewhere at our new house.

Starting at Balsam Gap near US 74 (elevation 3370), I took a right towards Cherokee for about a mile, and then left toward Asheville for 2 miles before I abandoned this new route at the Rabb Knob Overlook, elevation 3725. (image courtesy

About 5 months ago we packed enough clothes to last the summer and moved back to Western North Carolina where we feel most at home. For me, this meant running in the place I feel most at home with all the things, good and bad, that go along with living in the mountains.

This year’s marathon training has been measured in feet rather than miles. It was a strategy that evolved because our little cabin (and temporary home) sits conveniently off the all familiar road leading up the mountain. Week after week my plan was to drive 20-30 minutes across town for a better (flatter) running route. Then the days would get busy and I’d drive to the end of our road, run up the mountain and back down again to save time.

My favorite long-run route takes me past the historic Balsam Mountain Inn (Courtesy

Three years ago, marathon training carried me 11,700 feet uphill. The marathon of 2014 included 1,438 feet of total elevation gain (with 1,439 ft of loss), and I still can’t believe I survived that race. This season’s total training exceeds 30,000 feet of total elevation so far.

The strategy of all of these uphill runs wasn’t meant to just build strength and (hopefully) speed, but to practice the downhill part of running. . . and adjust to its undeniable abuse. My left calf was sore for several weeks early in the season, one knee or the other hurts from time to time, and the top of my right foot has become sore – the latter two issues courtesy of the extreme camber of these old, mountain roads.

Fortunately, my marathon training program includes a 3-week taper that begins this week. The ever-dwindling mileage scheduled throughout the taper gives my poor body plenty of time to recover before the marathon, and while we’re waiting on recovery there will be plenty of time to organize my new home. . . alarm clock optional.