I’m running my first half-marathon of 2020 on Saturday. I’ve followed a twelve-week training plan to prepare for the race. And I’ve done enough of these races to know that my mileage needs to decrease this week. There’s not much to be gained from a hard work-out at this point. Instead, my main goals for this week need to be nutrition, hydration, and rest. I want to avoid gastrointestinal distress while also loading my system with as many carbohydrates as possible for quick-burning fuel during the race. I’m trying to stay topped up on water, in order for all physical systems to operate with maximum efficiency. My as far as my legs and lungs are concerned, my training goal is to maintain strength and flexibility, to prepare my system for maximum effort on Saturday.
Most of a training plan is built around gradually increasing mileage from Week 1 to Week 11 of a Twelve-Week Training Plan. But because of the priority of resting and preparing muscles for maximum effort on race day, it’s typical to run shorter distances at the end of the training cycle. The last two runs on my current training plan, in fact, are just two miles each (whereas I’m typically running from three to five miles on weekdays, with a longer run on the weekend). The running community is quite united on the wisdom of this practice of “tapering” at the end of a training cycle. But the running community seems to be a bit divided on what to call the last little runs that characterize this phenomenon.
Are they “Shakeout Runs” or “Shakedown Runs?”
Shakeout seems to be the more common phrasing among running publications. Doing an internet search for “shakeout run” yields more relevant results than “shakedown run.” But the etymology behind the phrase is not as clear. The only, other, decently-common use of the phrase “Shakeout” is in the field of Economics. Dictionary.com defines a shakeout as “an elimination or winnowing out of some competing businesses, products, etc., as a result of intense competition in a market of declining sales or rising standards of quality” or “a rapid decline in the values of certain securities sold in stock exchanges or the like.” But neither of these definitions provide any indication of why the term might apply to running. No runner is trying to increase stress during the last week of training, in order to force only the strongest parts of one’s system to survive. I suppose the term “Shakeout” might be just trying to describe a process by which any pent-up twitching or adrenaline is literally shaken out ahead of the big race, in order to help the muscles run more smoothly. But that strikes me a bit strange, as running and shaking are not often paired together like that.
Shakedown is a less common term in the running world, but it’s more common in the English language. And I actually wonder if it’s more meaningful. Dictionary.com defines a shakedown with several common usages: extortion, as by blackmail or threats of violence; a thorough search, like a shakedown of prison cells to uncover hidden drugs; a bed, as of straw or blankets, spread on the floor, or any makeshift bed; or — and this is the one that really interests me the most — a shakedown cruise or shakedown flight, meaning a cruise or flight intended to prepare a new vessel or aircraft for regular service by accustoming the crew to its features and peculiarities, breaking in and adjusting machinery, etc. To me, that last definition is the most interesting. It seems to describe what’s happening in the final runs of a training cycle — just swapping out a body for a machine.
So I like the story of a Shakedown Run better. But I’m sensitive to the fact that most of the running community seems to lean towards the terminology of a Shakeout Run. It’s obviously not that important of a consideration. But I’ve enjoyed thinking about these dynamics as I’ve prepared for the race on Saturday.