Taper week: Riding the wave of crazy

My body was playing around the edge of its limits on Sunday, cutting through the wind and pushing a big gear as I biked around Grand Island. I wondered if the fact that no matter what direction I’m going on the island I seem to have a head wind is the result of some curse, back when the area was a battle ground among the British, French and Native Americans. I wondered if there was some way to reverse this wind curse. Then again, battling the wind will make me stronger, or at least that’s what I told myself as I gritted my teeth and hammered home the final two miles.

Then it occurred to me: After this 120-minute bike ride I was entering TAPER WEEK. Taper week! Never before had I been so excited about taper week. I usually dread the taper, but this time, oh dear lord, bring on the taper.

In endurance sports, taper refers to the period of time before a race where the athlete slows down. The training volume decreases. The intensity of workouts decreases. The idea is to keep the body moving but to give it some rest and recovery so that it’s fresh and ready to go on race day. The general principal is easy to understand. The application can get murky, especially with all kinds of competing theories on how best to taper before a big race.

Upon reflection, there seems to be a long list of “don’ts” I had been given about taper week. Don’t do too much walking around. Don’t do extra housework or yard work or anything physical. Don’t do anything new or unusual. Don’t stay up too late. Don’t eat too much since you’re not training hard this week.

Yeah, no wonder I typically go completely nutty during race week; I was given so much to be paranoid about!

Welcome to my first true taper week of 2011 and a sightly new approach. Here is what I know about how to prepare for this week leading up to the half marathon at the Niagara Ultra Races in Canada on Saturday:

  • My body will feel odd. Every little niggle and tweak will emerge early in the week. I have no idea why this happens, but it does. I envision it as my body getting rid of nervous energy.
  • I will feel woefully unprepared. Questions such as, “Did I do enough?” and “Did I work hard enough?” will haunt me during easy workouts. What I’ve learned is that everyone feels this way — from championship professionals to first-timers. I trust my coach. I trust my training. It will all come together on race day.
  • I will wonder what to eat. My workouts are shorter with less intensity with one exception — a tempo run on Wednesday. How do I fuel my body which is as hungry as ever but not burning off the same number of calories? First, I listen to my body and eat pretty much as I normally would. Second, I gave up chocolate for the week. If nothing else, it will be a great reward on Saturday afternoon.
  • I will enjoy the week. Forget what I “should” be doing. My entire journey has been about letting go of the “shoulds” and focusing on what I want to do, who I want to be and how I want to enjoy life. Granted, I won’t be digging any ditches this week but there’s also no need for me to sit on the couch the entire week. Maybe rest is a state of being rather than a state of inaction.
  • I will ride the wave of crazy. Irrationality is part of my race day charm. There will be moments when I sound like a crazy woman. And not the good kind of crazy but the kind which sends friends and family desperately searching for an effective straight jacket. However, I don’t have to give in to the crazy. if I wait a few moments, the crazy will pass and I will remember that race day is celebration of all the work I’ve done the last few months. Each race day is a chance to rejoice — that I’m able to train and race and participate fully in my life. What’s so crazy about that?

How do you prepare for race day?

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