Goooooooood morning and welcome, Taper! Twelve days to my 140.6 mile journey on big island of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii in the 2015 Ironman World Championship. I am racing on the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation Team for Cures. Over the past week every now and then it hits me although I’ve remained pretty calm going into this race. Maybe I don’t fully believe I am racing Kona or maybe I know it’s best to remain as calm as possible in the weeks leading up to it. This morning I opened my email first thing and it started to sink in. As I read one of my final training plans along with a thoughtful and encouraging message from my coach I briefly felt emotional for the first time over this experience. I also realized this week is departure week.
Taper is a beautiful thing. Yes…a BEAUTIFUL thing. As you reduce volume before your race this is a time to recover from all the hard work and become fully aware of how much progress you’ve made. Even in just the eight weeks I’ve had to train for this race I most definitely see the areas where I’ve improved. It is also an important time to mentally prepare, focus and relax your mind. I have spent some time doing my best to understand endurance athletes during their taper. Believe it or not, taper has a lot in common with what I encounter in my work as birth professional. Actually, training and race day do too and I have thought about this at some point during each of my Ironman races. But that’s another blog post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time and eventually will. If we learn how to nail tapering, like we do the rest of our training, it will likely pay off big for race day.
Taper doesn’t have to be a time that makes triathletes crazy, anxious, moody, bored, and a number of other words athletes use to describe taper. Have you ever thought about how many of us create the chaos or drama in our minds before taper even begins? As taper approaches people post warnings and jokes about how and what they are about to experience. The truth is, if you expect to feel anxious and moody you likely will be. This applies to anything in life. Tell yourself you are going to go nuts and you will become nuts. Athletes who go into taper seeing it as a miserable time will indeed have a very uncomfortable taper. Our mind is a powerful tool and our thoughts are directly linked to our experiences. Sometimes they even create our outcomes. Think about this and ask yourself how crankiness and worrying about things out of your control will affect your overall experience and race. One of the most important things I have learned in training for four Ironman in these past two years is that racing an Ironman requires a lot more than swim, bike, and run. It requires more than being fast enough to meet each of the cutoff times. A successful Ironman performance includes a strong body AND a well trained mind. Whether you realize it consciously or not, as you train the body physically you are training your mind at the same time. There are numerous ways to train the brain although it begins with something very simple: the way you speak to yourself. The things you tell yourself and the messages you choose to absorb from yourself and others will influence your mindset in one direction or the other. ”Be careful how you are talking to yourself because you are listening.” Lisa M. Hayes
Another week flew by and my training load lightened slightly. This week it decreases a little more. My body continues to feel great and although I love training I appreciated the decrease. Wednesday’s swim flew by quickly, feeling refreshed right out of the water. Saturday’s last longer ride was interesting trying to get out of the city with all of the Pope activity. My favorite day was yesterday, my last longer run on the Ben Franklin Bridge for the first time rather than above it. All of our roads were closed in the city for the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia. It was quite the site to see here in Philly, but I won’t even try paint that picture. I ran up and down Broad street, Love Park, Independence Hall, and the Ben Franklin. As I hit the middle of the bridge, half way between PA an NJ, the National Guard snuck up and photo bombed me. They screamed and then laughed which made me scream and then laugh. With the roads closed and so many tourists the energy of the city felt like running a race with so many “spectators” although instead of cowbells it was songs about Jesus every few blocks. Philly was Pope-ular this weekend and this run was the highlight of Pope-adelphia for me.
Physically, taper is needed for endurance athletes to ensure that the body is rested and well-fueled for the upcoming race but I appreciate this time for so much more. Mentally and emotionally tapering can be rather difficult for many as you see a change in schedule, appetite, structure, and so on. Choose to embrace taper. Get comfortable with this time, enjoy your new normal and remember it’s temporary. Much like discomfort you may experience on race day. That too is often temporary. Your body may crave more but choose to appreciate this time to recharge the body and mind. I don’t really know how people seem to have so much time on their hands during taper. There are so many things I need to get done and taper allows me that time. Make a list of all of the things you’d like to do before taper arrives so you are prepared with plenty of things to do when your taper arrives. Consider incorporating yoga and/or a meditation practice into your training BEFORE your taper and use your extra taper time to find yourself on your mat. If you think yoga is simply stretches, relaxation and Pranayama (breath work), think again. Yoga will also provide physical activity and all of this is something I look forward to during my taper. Still have too much time on your hands? Enjoy time with those you haven’t had much time for throughout training. Especially if they are people who have supported your training and will be there to support you on race. Experiment in the kitchen or go get a pedicure…I love looking down at pretty toes before I enter the water on race day. Start getting organized for the race. I packed all of my non-Ironman items yesterday (one week to departure) and intend to pack everything else tonight minus my helmet, run shoes, bike shoes, pedals, and a few other items. There’s no reason to create stress the day before I leave. Whatever it is you enjoy outside triathlon, enjoy it during taper. Focus on positive messages during taper. Direct your energy to how amazing your body is. What are you able to do now that you once couldn’t? What is your body capable of on race day? You have done the work. Going overboard with training during the final weeks to race day will likely do more harm than good. Relax and feel confident with where you are. Choose happiness, choose to appreciate, choose to trust your training and your body. The choices you make physically and mentally during taper are just as important as the choices you make during the peak of your training. One of the best things about taper is going into it without fear, worries, and a positive mindset. I still remember my first Ironman like it was yesterday, exactly one year and six months ago this week. As I approach my fourth Ironman I am calm, my mind is filled with happy thoughts and gratitude for where I am today. I am in taper, therefore I’m happy.
Wishing those who are tapering a happy taper and everyone else a very happy day! Keli