So the hard work has been done, you've been sweating all over your turbo trainer for the last six months, you haven't seen your friends for ages unless they too are training for the same event, the last week before race is the fabled taper.
Athletes all look forward to taper week with some kind of rose tinted disillusionment as if it’s Utopia. It SHOULD be like that, it really should. It’s there to help you rest and recover before you lay everything on the line on race day however, in my experience it never works that way.
Firstly, you severely cut down your training load. Often this comes without any warning. Yeah ok, so it’s been on the calendar for months, but no one actually weaned you off training before that cliff arrived. It’s like a junkie coming off heroin. You twitch, you can’t sit still, you're literally itching to do things and you can’t. If you get on the bike to do a gentle ride it takes super human control not to tear the legs off everyone else just because you can.
You forget that you've reduced your training load, but your brain hasn't quite caught up with that notion, so it still thinks you need a truck load of calories to simply survive. This leads to the inevitable over-eating which leaves you bloated and feeling a bit fat. This is not good news for anyone about to wear a lycra onesie for a whole day in the very near future. Sometimes, you might go down the route of carb depletion before carb loading. I've done this. Does it work? Who knows. What it does do is make you really crabby until you get back on the good stuff.
The rest period you're trying to give your body is to help it rebuild itself and give you the best chance of crushing the opposition. What I experience is that this process hurts! When you break a bone and it knits itself back together it causes some discomfort, that’s what it’s like for me all over my body as my muscles try and set themselves right as soon as they have realised that they are not being hammered every day.
Every little twinge, and you will almost certainly get some, sets you into a mad panic. Will it be ok for race day? How will I race like this? I've put so much work in and I've pulled my calf pressing the button on the kettle, how can this happen? All familiar scenarios that I've been through. What can I say other than “it will be ok”. The twinges are not normally severe and its likely to do with the healing process mentioned above. Keep on top of the hydration and make friends with your foam roller.
All this talk about rest is making you sleepy right? Sleep is the fourth discipline of triathlon so it’s really important to get some in your taper week. Take advantage of the fact you're not getting up at 0530 to be in the pool before work and have a lie in. This is important, don't forget most triathlons start at some ungodly hour and it will be a LONG day out. Is it likely? Not a chance. You try having a nap or an early night and I bet all that you can think of is what you need to pack in your transition bag, where is your stack of rubber bands you got the postman to deliver to you ages ago, what if this, what if that? It’s a nightmare, and I always seem to get more frustrated that I haven't managed to catch up on sleep that I get further and further away from a good night’s sleep.
Add to this all the new spare time that you suddenly have on your hands that you can’t hide from your family, you will almost certainly be getting chores because 'you've been training for six months and I've had to do everything without you'. Cue being asked to mow the lawn or just quickly run the hoover round, pop to the shops, sort this or that. Before you know it, you are exhausted and once again panicking because you have to swim, cycle and run all in one day soon but yet you struggled pushing the hoover and how high was you HR when you mowed the lawn? I know you wore your HR monitor 'just to see' and you counted the steps so don't even try and say you didn't.
So that’s my short run down of a race taper week. I haven't even brushed on the stress of packing (you will take too much yet still forget stuff). Did you remember to get your bike serviced? Nope, I bet you didn't. Add that to the things that will weigh on your mind as you rack your bike ahead of the race.
Oh, and one last thing....you'd better hide your wallet for a week because Wiggle sells an awful lot of 'I could just do with' items that you will want to order in those final few days as your mind has way too much time and spare capacity to think of them now that you've wrapped on training.