My first taper week of the season starts today and like all taper weeks, I’m going to apologize to my spouse upfront. Because, dear friends, taper week is a bastard and I will be a right bastard too.
Taper week is well known to any endurance athlete. Whether you’re a runner, cyclist, triathlete, or crazy ultramarathoner, it’s wise to use the week before a race to let your body catch up, rest up, and fuel up so you’re at your peak strength and endurance on race day.
Most of us will gradually cut our workouts down, usually making the day or two before the rest days or very, very limited workouts. We also add more water and carbs into our diets to ensure our depleted muscles are full of glycogen once more (aka – carb loading). And lastly, if you’re like me, you cut out alcohol and excessive sugar while increasing the number of veggies I eat to ensure my diet is dialed in.
All of this is designed to get my body at its peak, so why is taper week so hard?
First of all, I love to exercise. I love working out. I love pushing my body. So, going from consistent workouts to almost none leaves me with energy and little to no outlet. It’s also like an itch in my brain. A low grade feeling of unease because I should be out running and I’m not. I should feel the drag of tiredness in my limbs, but instead, I have energy I NEED TO GET OUT!
Second, the extra carbs. I eat a moderate amount of carbs, maybe less than an average endurance runner because of my bodybuilding background, so when I add more in, I feel bloated and heavy. My weight will spike too as added glycogen means more water is held in my system, which will, of course, push my weight higher. I don’t really feel the weight as I move, but I get a little belly bloat, which is uncomfortable and mentally, I don’t like seeing the scale go up.
And finally, my vices. Oh, my sweet vices. I like a drink and I have a sweet tooth. I know both are moderately bad for me but taken in small doses, I don’t feel like I’m hacking years off my life. But cut them both out entirely and I get cranky.
So, as a recap, I have energy but no outlet, I’m bloated and heavy, and I’m cranky from a lack of sugar and alcohol. It’s sort of like being pregnant.
There is a final factor: race stress. It hits us all differently. Some people roll up to the starting line without a care in the world. Me? I stress all week long and for no damn good reason. I am unlikely to climb on a podium. The possibility is so remote that I don’t know why I stress. Maybe I risk injury, but with a wise race pace and not getting caught in my own head or mentally writing my next novel, I should be able to avoid most accidents.
I don’t know why I stress like this. But it happens every time. I spend the night before restless and afraid I’ll miss my alarm. I roll up to the starting line, tired and stressed, eyeing every other racer to see how badly I’ll get crushed. Then the gun goes off … and the stress evaporates. The hay is in the barn, as my academic advisor would tell me. There is nothing I can do to alter my performance now. The training is done. The stress can relax. Now I just have to finish.
But today is the start of taper week. A week of healthy eating, reduced workouts, and all the associated crankiness, stress, and irritability. Be kind to your tapering friends. You might get your head bitten off otherwise.
Sorry in advance!
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