I've found that tapering is an odd and awkward beast for most triathletes. Which has always struck me funny, because it makes perfect sense, physiology-wise, and it's easy - you just cut back on the either the number or length/intensity of your sessions (typically 25 percent each week until race day). How could doing *less* exercise be a problem, you ask?
It just feels weird.
I've always found that, as much as I enjoy the mental break that comes from tapering - I swear, just trying to schedule 30-weeks worth of workouts, day in and day out, is like the fourth leg of triathlon - the physical part is baffling. You'd think that, given the additional rest, your body would feel better and better everyday. That you'd wake up each morning a little bit more chipper and energized. That you'd just feel stronger, and smarter, and more confident with every passing hour.
Yeah, not so much.
My taper is usually filled with doubt and anxiety, mostly because I *don't* ever get that feeling of physical rejuvination. There is no grand rebound in the weeks before my big race. I don't get the sense of growth that's said to come from the body's response to a period of continued stress. I just feel flat. Really tired. Always hungry. Certainly not an Ironman poised to conquer the 140 miles of water/road that ends just blocks from the Capitol building.
There's also the ever-present fear that you're either tapering too much or not enough to do any good. For example, I typically swim in the morning and run in the afternoons on Tuesday. This past Tuesday, I blew off the afternoon run. Just didn't really feel like it, and, in honor of the taper starting, I didn't do it. Instead, Cath and I had dinner and watched TV. And, of course, I felt guilty about missing the run. I still do. Did I *need* that run to do well on September 13? Probably not. But the doubt still lingers.
Typically, when asked for their advice, most folks will just say "stick with whatever plan that you've been following and you can't go wrong," but that gets tricky when your body is telling you one thing (either it hurts, doesn't hurt, or is somewhere in between) and the plan says something else. Or you just can't read your body's signals - yeah, your knee is bothering you a little, but is that just a random nothing or the beginning of something debilitating? Is that last long-ish run going to push you over the edge? Or not? Hmmm...
I certainly don't have the answers, but, for me, I'd rather not chance anything at this point. It's been a long road, and I'd hate to have anything go wrong before I've even hit the start line. One more swim, bike, or run isn't going to make or break my race. But it could lead to an injury that could take me out of the race, or, at least make it a more difficult one. So why chance it?
We're another day closer to the Big Dance, kids. Be smart with your training!
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