One more cup of coffee for the road,
One more cup of coffee before I go,
To the valley below.
-- Dylan

The anticipation is both sweet and sickening, and it colors the normality of life with a kind of filmy sheen. I'm not just talking about tapering, which is known for inducing madness in the marathoner. The cutting back does cause a strain, to be sure. A mind accustomed to pressing, focused intently on a goal, freely working as hard as it can, suffers a bit when asked to pull back. It tugs like a dog on a short leash.

But to identify a change in training as a source of madness is to miss the madness entirely. The key to understanding it is the fact that the madness is worst when everything has been done well. You've got these legs like coiled vipers, a heart thumping deep like a cantaloupe. You inhabit a world that spins about blissfully ignorant of the singular powers you have created. It's out of that peculiar dissonance between the ordinariness of life and the extraordinariness of the person that you have become that the madness rises. Madness always being an effect of singularity.

The fitness of the marathon runner is extraordinary, and it therefore demands extraordinary things from the person who possesses it. Can you take such a body that is brimming with strength and ride it delicately to utter exhaustion? Can you turn its strength against itself, use that strength surgically and witheringly to destroy that self-same body? You have to be singularly mad to perform such a task. The sane try to preserve themselves. The mad destroy themselves. It is not sane to reach for total exhaustion, but it's what singularity demands.

And so, the week before a marathon, one gives oneself the task of becoming quite mad.

After it is over, the whole event will be analyzed, dissected, discussed, praised, or grieved. It will be, in short, normalized. But until then, the runner is able to savor his captivation to a maddening anticipation that quite deliciously refuses to be shared. In the race, this madness finds its full expression and its utter and singular isolation.

Good luck to the fall marathoners. My prayer for you is this: may you each be touched, on race day, with a bit of madness. And may you be courageous enough to embrace it.


  1. Interesting take on taper, I'll be sitting on my hands for the results of Bay State.

  2. Just wanted to take a quick moment to thank you for all of your help. Your willingness to share your experience & knowledge in the forums on runningahead have helped me beyond words. I've, at least to some degree, put your ideas to work on my mind & body, and they've responded well beyond my imagination. I was never athletic through the high school days, and started running about 3 years ago at 39 years old... I just went sub-3 at the Portland (Oregon) Marathon, and believe I owe much of that to you. I look forward to your great success at Bay State. Godspeed, sir.

  3. Thanks, all. For those wondering, I'm hoping to run something under 6:00 pace in this one, maybe all the way down to 2:32 if things go spectacularly.

    Old Man, read that you are going for sub 3--awesome!

    And thanks, g, for the kind words.

  4. Running everyday to me is like my meditation. It lets me forget about everything in life and gives me ideas to move forward


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