Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tapering: a different kind of hard

I'm doing a relatively long taper. I've had success with this before (Race Across Oregon 2009 springs to mind immediately). My sense is that by the time we reach this point as endurance athletes, there's nothing more to be gained by long, hard workouts. And I've had SO many friends comment to me on having a really great race experience that they just can't account for "...because I'd been basically off the bike for the past X weeks due to ". It happens often enough that it can't be coincidence. The benefits of rest and recovery outweigh any benefits of further training at this point. 

The problem is that training is fun, and tapering sucks! I feel like I've been sitting around a lot. Changing light bulbs (in the van lights) and buying supplies like sunscreen, horchata, and neosporin...little stuff that does move my RAAM forward, but just doesn't have the fun factor that goes along with riding. I mean - let's face it - this is what fun looks like:

not this:
No matter how hard you try to make it look good, you just know that there's not enough Valium in the world to put my stupid-happy bike grin on this woman's face.

Tapering comes with another set of challenges, apart from the boredom. My body is healing up very quickly, and part of the healing process is the "reveal" - all of the nagging aches and pains that are normally masked by the endorphin load of training are coming home to roost. And since I spend this time being very highly attuned to my body and its needs and demands, I feel every twinge. There are all sorts of "phantom" sensations that, in reality, mean nothing at all. But the first time - and the second, and the third - that you go through a taper cycle, you can't help but worry...because now that you've finally given the knee some rest, you notice this funny feeling...AUGH!

And then the doubt sets in: maybe a taper is the wrong idea in the first place? Maybe if I just keep riding hard all the way to the main event I'll not have to deal with this. Maybe NOT training so hard is making me literally fall apart. Maybe...This is not a good time for doubt. I'm lucky - I know this works. I expect it to be hard - just as hard as any other phase of the training, just a different kind of hard.

On the plus side, I get to do some pampering things that really fell by the wayside when I was training harder. Salads - amazing salads. I don't eat a lot of spinach salad during a 24-hour race - in addition to the obvious logistical problems that presents, I just can't always spare the room when trying to pack in an extra thousand calories a day. Fruits and veggies just sound good - I need to lighten up a little with the reduced training volume, and I'm enjoying the tastes, smells, and textures.

I'm still training, of course - just cutting it a little short, focusing on form, speedwork, and quitting as soon as I get the results I'm after. Nice ride today - but no need to thrash through a 200k.I know I can ride that far, no trick to it, nothing to prove, and - it won't get me to Annapolis.  I can do the intensity work inside (until next weekend, that is!) and just connect with the bike, make sure I'm happy with the equipment, and more or less relax and refresh.

So - nothing much of interest to report. All systems are "go". Eggplant (my RAAM van) is taking on a seriously badass appearance: she's sprouted FIVE speakers out the front (four for external music, one for voice/PA) and a couple of low fog lights to help light my way at night. The bed's installed. I've got a case of horchata in aseptic packaging: it's great alone, on ice, or mixed with orange drink (creamsicle) or instant coffee ("horchatte"). A lot of Honey Stinger product - bars, gels, and chews - and some other goodies are already stockpiled, too.

Alert readers will have noticed the new "twitter" badge on my blog. We've concluded that twitter will be a good way to get quick updates to those who are interested - it's very easy to send a text message from a cell phone - but most of you don't have twitter accounts. This badge will allow you to see updates live over the web whenever you want without having to log in, create a new account, or "follow" me.

Next week: OHPV Human Powered Challenge, Portland International Raceway. I'll be out there. Some speedwork, nothing too hard or too long, and good times with friends. I'll also swing by the Lewis and Clark Ultra - I'd love to race it, but...too close.

After that - Oceanside. And before I leave, I promise...I'll tell you WHY I'm the luckiest person in the world.


  1. Hi, Sandy,

    You say you're doing a long taper, but it's two weeks to race day. Did you start your taper several days before your post? I would consider a traditional taper for RAAM (or even RAO or the 508) to be about 3 weeks. A long taper would be more than 3 weeks and a short taper to be about 2 weeks. Anything less than that I would think that the event must not be a priority. Just curious...

    Anyway, Good Luck! You certainly seem prepared.

    David Holt

  2. David - Thanks!! I finished my peak mileage on 5/8, did a relatively tough, but shorter (100 + 50) weekend on 5/15-16, and have been in cruise mode ever since. Long rides are (up to) 4-5 hours and easy - less if I don't really feel like it, but I'm keeping with (shorter) intensity workouts to put on a metabolic load without burning out the legs.
    My RAO taper last year was very close to a month, and although my leg speed felt a little dim at the start I think it was a good thing overall.