There are eleven days to Ironman. I have two race simulation workouts left. I should have done one today, but the J-Team stayed out too late learning all about wine, so today has been declared a day off.
But now I'm dealing with the most uncomfortable thing about the Ironman taper -- the sluggishness and lethargy. Sitting in front of the TV, my legs feel like two balloons. What causes it? How does cutting back to 50% of my training make me feel like I've gained 50 pounds of water weight? No matter how many times I experience it, it's still disorienting and panic-inducing. It's hard to do nothing when you're used to training an average of 2-3 hours per day. During a taper, all sorts of things start to creep in:
- Depression, anxiety -- for many of us, training is the "drug" -- it's how we self-medicate for daily stress, but nothing is more stressful than a big important race looming on the horizon
- The so-called "phantom" pains -- strange pains just pop out of nowhere in places that never hurt before
- Heavy legs -- this could be a real effect of holding onto water and carbs or it could be the effect of drinking too much wine last night (there's no way to be completely sure but I'm going with the former)
- Sleep issues -- the body isn't working as hard, so it has much more energy and not as tired as usual
Here's where athletes sometimes make mistakes. I made the "big one" before the Philadelphia Marathon in November 2008. With all the extra energy and no long run, I spent the weekend before the race cleaning the walls of and painting my kitchen. Who knew painting was such a strenuous activity? I woke up the next day with severe hip pain that translated into an excruciating last ten miles of the marathon. Lesson learned. When they say "don't use the extra energy during your taper to do spring cleaning," that INCLUDES housework of any sort (except, perhaps, sitting down and folding laundry).
The other mistakes I don't want to make this time is gaining or losing weight. It's quite easy to gain weight during a taper when you're used to eating huge amounts of food to keep up with the huge amount of calories you're burning. But losing weight is something I never thought about until I dropped more than five pounds in two weeks going into the 1999 Cleveland Marathon. I still don't know how it happened, but it resulted in my starting the race in such a state of fatigue that I had to drop out of at mile 15.
But, to get away from the usual Disaster Magnet-type thinking (i.e., negative), there are things I plan to keep in mind during my taper: reduce mileage while keeping the intensity up, drink more water daily to hydrate well and keep my appetite in check, practice relaxation techniques, and get more sleep.
And maybe, think positively.
(For anyone struggling with the same taper doldrums, try putting your mind at ease with this article: Marathon Taper Traps)