Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Taper Bug

It’s here, it hit me.

The taper bug bit me in the ass.

My triathlon friends know what I mean. My nontriathlon friends are wondering what I was bit by and should I get a prescription to clear it up.

The taper is a nasty bug and I wish someone would prescribe me meds. Meds to calm me down, meds to stop my mind from racing a race that is..almost…just about…get HERE already would you, meds to make me just fall asleep and wake up on race day. Meds to make me less hungry, more quiet.

Yes what I need are some good meds. Where is Dr. Nuts?


(for the record he recently moved to Rochester and will soon be doing a fellowship in San Diego)

Taper is a very special time of the season. Tapering is the process where you start to reduce volume of training, duration of your workouts while also slightly including intensity – all to balance rest and sharpness for race day. You can reach a peak twice in a season – so you reserve tapering for truly important races. The big ones. The other races – you go into slightly rested or a little fatigued to bank up the fitness and work you need to accrue for your best race day.

Will it pay off? No one ever knows. Not even during the taper can you tell. You sort of get a sense but never know 100 percent. Get into the sport long enough and you know the signs of a taper. You can tell where your body is at. It’s a feeling that leaves your legs and instead enters your head. You feel the need to run laps around your house because you are so filled with energy. You feel the need to draw a chalk line on your driveway and stand at it for awhile until someone sounds the gun. You feel the need to eat nothing, eat everything, get more sleep, wake up a dozen times to pee during sleep – your body and mind start to short circuit a little bit, a calm before the storm.

And what is the storm?

Proper taper will leave you at your peak. You can feel your peak. You can absolutely feel it coming on, some call it peaking others call it coming into your form. You know the magical feeling where you are pulling water, hitting intervals, going faster for further than you ever did before. You’re not setting the big records yet (save for race day) but you are little by little getting closer to feeling 100 percent on fire.

You are like a storm. Will it be the perfect storm? Again, only time will tell. You just hope that by some miracle of discipline, determination and a little bit of luck that perfection happens on race day.


Strange things happen during taper in body our body and mind. In body you are doing less. In your legs ware less workouts, less abuse allowing their voice and cries to finally be heard. I call this phantom pains. You know the little tweak in your back, the tightness in your ITBand. You think to yourself how can I be hurting when I’m doing 10000 times less than the week before? And 10000x less than the week before that? Mysteries of the taper. No one is sure.

With the reduction in activity your body also revolts by making you hungrier. My theory about this is that you work at a deficit for so many weeks, a deficit you are distracted from noticing because you are just busier with workouts, life, etc. When you finally do less and have more time on your hands, all of those cues you’ve ignored start to get heard. And heard LOUD. You want to eat everything in your pantry even the stuff that is there as reserve in case you run out of things to eat but you really don’t want to eat anyways. You start eating that stuff. And it’s never as delicious as the stuff you really want to it which at this point in the season is nothing but baked goods and chocolate. But you know you can’t. So you end up doing your last 45 minute run with pick ups while dreaming about the bag of peanut butter cups you will bury yourself in after race day. You grant yourself a 24 hour fall from grace to cram as many calories (bad only) as possible into your mouth for the sweet pleasure of – because you can. Because it won’t affect the workout the next day or leave you with no energy or put on a pound.

You have every intention of putting on a pound within the 24 hours after the race.

You start making lists. You start making timelines. You write out what you need in gear bags, salt tabs in baggies, how many and which type of gels. You make lists within your list and realize you have a 4 page document, a display of your anal retentiveness about race day. What time to leave, arrive, what to do in transition and even – yes even – directions to take the time to pause in the porta potty and psyche yourself up.

I am that girl.

Then you gather your thoughts. I save this for a few days before the race. The ritualistic gathering of the thoughts where I write out some notes about the race. A little bit of self-encouragement, strategy and things you hope you are focused and coherent enough on race day to hear in your head. Go back through old race plans, make sure the nutrition is right and then just sit and…wait. The waiting is the hardest part. Hard not to get distracted, worried, looking for little signs that you are fit or fat, slow or fast. I’m sure I’m not the only one that will admit it’s hard to stay out of your own way.

Some athletes show up on race day, no lists, no thoughts, no plans. They race from their gut, their heart and it works for them. Some athletes are more organized and like to think it through. It’s like studying for an exam. Sure you sat in class all semester but maybe there is something you missed or need to be reminded about. It never hurts to organize the details of what’s already in your head.

The best athletes are a combination of both. They show up hungry, fully engaged in both heart and head. They anticipate the outcome but know how to 100 percent stay on top of their race every step of the way. The preparation you put into getting to that race start means nothing if you can’t draw from it while also responding to every mile of your race.

These are my thoughts from a taper, the room with a view in my mind. The one where I am sitting and waiting, visualizing the race in my head, promising to give it a complete effort, to make it the best day and to simply and honestly race as myself.


Now, time for my taper meds. And what is that pain in my left leg? And my lower back. And..pssst..if you're not going to eat that, yes that right next to you, pass it over here. I'm hungry again.

11 comments:

TriGirl Kate O said...

elf,
Enjoy the taper! I know you are going to totally ROCK IMAZ.

Kim said...

You have summed up the taper so beautifully Liz! It is all that and more! I am having flashbacks to this master excel file I made before Kona. It had a tab for packed gear, race day nutrition (hour by hour), each bag - T1,T2,Special needs, and finally.. the culmination..a race week agenda so I didn't miss anything important. I am glad to hear I am not the only anal rentitive one! Then, it was off my mind, and it will be off yours too. It sounds like you are set up to have a great race..all you have to do now is go out there and do it! I'll be rooting for you!

Roo said...

Yay- maybe Dr. Nuts can fix me when he gets here.

Charisa said...

Happy tapering! You're ready.

Ulyana said...

Right now, next to me, I have a box of Whole Foods Chocolate Truffles! You probably don't want to know that!

My taper is starting in two weeks. But I've been wanting to eat everything I have every minute of the day. It's just as if I am a huge stomach with arms and leg. The truffles though really helped me kill my chocolate craving. Just one truffle and I am set for the rest of the day... too much sugar, probably that's why.

TRIHARDCHIK said...

Sooo exactly true and eloquently put. I've never heard a better description of taper--I am also THAT girl! Hang in there--it will soon be time.

brandon said...

It will be the perfect storm.

Stef said...

Thanks for posting this.

BreeWee said...

I am so excited to watch you race AZ! Literally I am going nuts waiting to cheer you on all day from behind a computer... love the taper... go with it... and enjoy the journey Elf!

Eileen Swanson said...

GOOD LUCK tomorrow ELF! Show 'em what you got! You will do great. How cool is it to be back to your normal, spunky self? ;-)

XO,
E

Dave said...

Good job so far on your taper today. :)