I recently had the joy of experiencing one of my favorite weekends of the year. The combination of our team training weekend on the Ironman Wisconsin course, the Oregon Kids’ Triathlon, and the large volleyball tournament fundraiser for cancer research in memory of an amazing woman truly fills my heart. This festive weekend typically comes on the heels of our annual family reunion where 40-50 members of Jamie’s family gathers in lake houses for a week of bonding and fun.
So much planning, preparation, energy, love, blood, sweat, and tears of so many individuals goes into this weekend. The preparation builds and as it approaches so does the stress. Many people put hours of busy energy into it, down to the final moments.
There is no time of rest before the big events. There is no pausing to anticipate. The energy builds and builds until the crashing post weekend letdown.
We don’t think to taper in life.
And what does it even mean to taper?
According to Iñigo Mujika, a sport physiologist who has extensively studied tapering and coached numerous Olympians, a taper is “a progressive, nonlinear reduction of the training load during a variable period of time that is intended to reduce physiological and psychological stress and optimize sport performance.” In other words, it’s the period right before a peak race that allows you to shed the accumulated fatigue from weeks of hard training and top up glycogen stores, while maintaining the sharp edge of that hard-won fitness so you can be your best and fastest when the gun goes off. (www.triathlete.com)
I have had the honor of working with some amazing people and athletes leading in to our local race—Ironman Wisconsin. This has been such a unique journey with this group of people, starting with preparation for the race in January of 2020 (and for some before that). We have collectively navigated a global pandemic, race uncertainty, postponements, and cancellations. They have expressed their fears and worries. They have shared their gratitude for training during such stressful times and also their inevitable worry, fear, and lack of motivation. I have listened and validated their feelings while urging them to focus on the moment and their needs. I have watched their energy build for a long time.
They are two weeks out from race day. In the taper.
The race taper is a time of physical and mental rest. It takes a high level of discipline to execute properly. You do not benefit from unleashing the beast of busyness, planning, and panic preparation.
Honestly, many of us know that this period is downright f*cking stressful. It messes with your body and mind a different way than you are mentally and physically accustomed to over months of dedicated training. And as I get older and gain more experience as a coach, athlete, and human I can more understand why.
The race taper requires training restraint. It facilitates growth and adaptation through rest. The taper forces us to feel it all as the anticipation toward our goal grows. The taper makes us wait.
We don’t like to wait.
As a culture we are doers. We buffer our innermost feelings by staying busy, constantly moving to distract ourselves from our lives. It usually feels good, productive, and helpful to hustle. And I will not argue that being productive is overwhelmingly negative. But, when you are chasing an invisible carrot daily to outrun yourself it is damaging. Eventually the letdown will come and tear you down.
Set hard goals. And then benefit from patience and waiting with anticipation. Consider how we can incorporate a healthy life version of the taper.
This might look like preparing for big projects or life events weeks ahead of time (when able) and calmly putting on the final touches in the weeks before the unveiling. Less procrastinating and instead a calmer approach. An opportunity to experience all of the process without feeling unnecessarily frantic and exhausted.
More alone time, Earlier bedtimes. Less plans. Taking stock of what fills you up and what drains you. Saying no more often to things that don’t add value to your life. Saying yes to what does.
Savoring the moments rather than preparing for the next. Allowing the discomfort of waiting without allowing constant buffering.
As Ironman Wisconsin approaches the athletes will come out of training autopilot. Their bodies will start to repair and they will feel aches and pains where they have’t felt them in months. They will feel a bit stir crazy and want to train more often and harder. Their brains will feel a bit distracted but also open up to all the things they haven’t had the energy to consider or care about for a long time. They will notice every bit of dust that has accumulated on baseboards over the last several months (or is this just me?) And as they wait they will most likely want more than anything to get to race day.
They will fully feel.
And if done with discipline they will arrive at the start line ready to go. Full of excited anticipation. The wait will have been absolutely worth the result.
I know this and many of you do too.