Tapering is the practice of reducing or tapering off, exercise in the days just before an important competition.
Today I'm one week away from my first Ironman and I feel crappy. My final long ride on Friday was more difficult than I planned and I never felt strong during the ride. My easy taper run on Sunday (1 hour at a 9:00 min mile pace) was easy but I felt sluggish and uninspired. Not to mention my right knee was hurting and my right knee never hurts. What's strange about these symptoms is that this is how I'm supposed to feel. This is part of the tapering process for an Ironman. This is what happens when your body adjusts and repairs itself after being pushed thru huge amounts of training volume. I've never tapered for an Ironman before but I've talked to experienced Ironman athletes and they tell me not to worry, that this is normal. I never would have guessed when I started this journey that at some point my weekend of an 80 mile bike followed by a 6 mile run or a 14 mile run on Sunday would begin to feel "good". I certainly wouldn't have guessed that doing a mere 50 mile bike and no run on Saturday followed by a 7 mile easy run on Sunday would make me feel "bad". My new "normal" is now feeling crappy because I haven't trained as much...strange.
Common Taper Symptoms
•At the beginning of the taper, some athletes say they feel more tired than when they were putting in long training hours. For those who are tapering their volume over several weeks, this feeling leads to a temptation to resume higher volume. Resist the temptation; it'll pay off on race day.
•When tapering for a key race, many athletes feel flat and fatigued during the final workouts, wondering how they'll ever make it through the event. This feeling can sometimes cause athletes to test themselves on the actual race course or distance to be sure they can make it. This is what I call fear-based training—and giving into this feeling can harm your performance.
•As the taper continues, many athletes notice (or more likely their family and friends notice first) that they're slightly grouchy—OK, some athletes are more than just a little grumpy. Often, family and friends will urge the athlete to put in more hours, in desperate hope of extinguishing the foul mood. Take their comments and observations to heart and lighten-up. Apologize for any over-the-edge behaviors and educate your family and friends about the tapering process.
•Roughly half the athletes I work with begin to notice little aches and pains they never noticed before the taper period. The pains show up for no apparent reason. In fact, these pains were nonexistent during the high-volume training phase, making it tempting to resume longer training hours. If aches and pains emerge, resist the urge to increase training volume.
•Some athletes may feel slightly blue or depressed the week before the race. Others feel they have so much energy they'll go nuts if they don't work out. Don't act on either of these feelings—just let them pass.
•Within one or two days of the race, most athletes feel good. They're typically ready to race and are anxious to race—immediately! This feeling is exactly what you want, and why you've tapered your training volume. Unfortunately, the feeling comes late in the taper process and it takes a leap of faith if you've never experienced the feeling of racing with a rested body.