A Pre-Race Rest (For the Runner, Not the Cook)

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Week 16
Total Mileage: 32 miles
Weekend Meal: Baked ham, egg and broccoli casserole, roasted potatoes, fruit salad, green salad, bread, brownies, banana pudding, and ice cream cake

I didn't mean to have 25 people over for Easter brunch. The guest list started small. My parents were coming to town for the weekend, and I suggested that instead of going to a crowded, overpriced restaurant, we eat at home instead, and maybe invite my roommates. Then I thought it might be nice to include some friends from church. Then my roommate Amber asked if she could bring her eight family members who'd be in town for the weekend. Then I spread the word to my college friends in the area. And before I knew it, our refrigerator was filled with two hams, two dozen eggs, a sack of potatoes, and enough unsalted butter to make Dr. Atkins blush.

I could attribute this burst of hospitality to my joy at the Easter season and the coming of spring and my desire to introduce my family to all the wonderful people I've met since I moved to D.C. last winter. But really, I was just twitchy from tapering.

The last three weeks of marathon training are the hardest. The challenge isn't physical—in this final stretch you decrease your mileage, a process known as tapering, which helps the body heal and rest before the race. I did my last long run at the end of Week 15—a 20-mile ramble through upper Northwest D.C. and Rock Creek Park—and in the weeks since have been running less and less: 12 miles at the end of Week 16, and eight at the end of Week 17.

No, the challenge is all mental. Throughout the training, you're building mileage, feeling stronger and hungrier with every week. Then, with the big day less than a month away, you slow down. Your appetite slows down. You have more energy than you know what to do with. You start to worry: will I really be able to finish? What if I twist my ankle walking down the street? What if it snows on marathon day?

The good news is you have plenty of time on your hands, especially on the weekends. Easter fell at the end of the first week of tapering, so the brunch offered an ideal outlet for my excess energy.

The marathon of cooking began Saturday morning, after my uncomfortably short run. My parents were still at their hotel, and I'd never made a ham before, so I knew I'd want my mother there to guide me. So I started with dessert, mixing up two trays of my favorite brownie recipe and two dishes full of banana pudding from my favorite Southern cookbook. After a few hours of creaming butter, melting chocolate, and stirring custard, my parents arrived and we tackled the hams.

I'd bought two varieties: one classic ham I'd ordered from a pricey mail-order company a week in advance and a spiral-cut one from the grocery store I'd rushed out to buy after I realized the brunch had ballooned from a small gathering to a feeding of the masses. The fancy ham needed longer to cook, so we got it ready first: we covered it in foil, placed it in a roasting pan, put it in a 425-degree oven, and set the timer for an hour and 20 minutes.

When we went to the living room to wait, I was reminded of the afternoon I'd spent months earlier waiting for a pork shoulder to cook. The day outside was beautiful and springy instead of snowy and wintry, but waiting affected my parents and me as it had affected my friends during the snowpocalypse. My dad read aloud from the New York Times and we discussed whether public displays of affection were really as offensive as one columnist thought. My mother took out her sewing supplies and repaired the hem on one of my dresses. I briefed them on the guests who would be coming to brunch. In other words, we didn't do much of anything except sit, talk, and wait.

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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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