Somewhere between training and racing this is a place called tapering.
A place where you find yourself cage pacing back and forth in a series of shorter than usual workouts with an appetite larger than usual while you incessantly think to yourself…
ARE WE THERE YET?
Not yet. Less than 2 weeks. According to Inigo Mujika (who wrote a scintillating book on peaking and tapering), it takes approximately 14 to 28 days to fully shake out fatigue and create the physiological (and psychological) changes that accompany tapering. During this time you can expect to feel grumpy, punchy, fussy, tired, hungry, fat, heavy, slow … you get the point. If you really want to know what happens when tapering, ask the spouse of any Ironman triathlete. I’ll ask Chris on your behalf:
You’re punchy and in a bad mood.
Right on schedule with tapering.
Last week, I spent most of Monday through Thursday recovering from my last big workouts. Big as in a 115 mile ride, a 3 mile run followed the next day by a 25 mile ride and a nearly 22 mile run. As you can imagine, during the last 5 miles of my long run my legs felt roughly 1 gel away from…death. Monday was bad. Tuesday was worse. By Wednesday I was still having trouble walking. Long runs after childbirth leave me walking around like I’ve been riding a horse all morning, feet splayed and knees bent.
I looked like a geriatric cowboy.
After those peak workouts, I had a peak moment of parenting. Max had gotten hold of Boss’ kibble, was putting it in his mouth then spitting it back out piece by piece on to the floor and Boss was there eating it. Tired from training, all I could do is sit there and think to myself: at least I don’t have to clean it up!
By Friday, though, I started to feel human again. The fog was lifting. This process of shedding fatigue to arrive at a race not only fit but fresh enough to properly use that fitness is the art of tapering.
People keep asking me if I’m ready. I got the same questions in the final weeks before having a baby. Like baby, is one ever truly ready for an Ironman? You know that no matter how much you plan, no matter how many hours it took to write that birth/race plan and what your doula/couch says, baby/race day will come out the way it wants to.
Racing an Ironman is very much an unknown and that’s what I enjoy most about it. You have to be in the moment and ready to respond. It is like a test of everything you’ve ever learned from training and in racing. Can you execute your fuel plan, can you troubleshoot it, your stomach is sloshy – now what, it’s headwind – now what. It requires constant attention and action. That’s what makes it so exciting to me.
Soon enough it will all be real and I’ll be treading water around 7 am next Saturday. NEXT Saturday!?! How did THAT happen. Until then, I’ll just continue to taper and tell Kurt I’m bored of tapering. I think this is called “waiting”. And resisting the 1000 temptations that seem to be popping up everywhere. Why is it that when you can’t have something, you crave it the most? We went to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday. I swear every vendor was selling cider doughnuts, pumpkin bread, crumb cake or taffy apples – all staring directly at me. I found myself craving beer. I don’t even drink beer. I want wine, I want ice cream. Of course the novelty of all of these things will wear off in 1 week post-ironman but during that week it is safe to say I will fall off the wagon. Hard. And I’m taking all 4 wheels with me.
With all of the extra time that I have while tapering I decided to sneak in some secret heat acclimation training. I started in the dry sauna. Our gym’s sauna is kept at a comfortable 184 degrees. I brought my iPhone, a few towels and made a little nest on the bench. When I hit the 20 minute mark, I thought I was all hard core. Then the girl in there with me – wrapped in a head and body towel – goes into plank position. While reading. Folks, we’ve got an overachiever here. I met her with another 20 minutes of determination to sit there. And sweat. A large man joined us and started doing tricep dips off the bench from a squatted position. He’s either a Cross-Fitter or about to give birth in the corner. I sweated it out for 40 minutes. The girl was still laying there – fully toweled and reading. I waved my white sweaty towel. I give up. But only because it’s dinner time and I left my husband at home with 2 small children (we didn’t have another, we were just watching one).
The next day I was determined to go 50 minutes. Brought some magazines, electrolytes and even more towels. A sign on the door reads: OUT OF ORDER. Only one other option: the steam room.
I have never, ever been in the steam room. I don’t fully understand what goes on in there mostly because through the glass door all I can see is something steamy. I know you can’t read, can’t shave and can’t sit in there naked. I decide to risk being caught by the Gym Popo and….brought in a magazine. Come on, did you really think I would sit in there naked? That place is as clean as licking the inside of my cycling shoe.
The first 5 minutes were tolerable once I got past the fact that it smelled like I was sitting right next to a giant pile of used socks like a high school boys locker room. I was speed-reading the latest issue of Lava while the pages were literally melting in my hands. About 10 minutes into it, I almost broke unposted but assumed rule #4 of the steam room: never take a crap in it. As a giant surge of steam comes blowing out from a hole in the wall for 30 seconds straight, I nearly shit myself. I told myself to keep breathing and actually put the magazine in front of my face to keep stop the steam coming full speed at me. There went another few pages of the magazine. I’ve never suffocated but I think this is how it feels. I lasted 20 minutes before I needed a break. Stood outside the room to cool off and then went back in for another 10 minutes. I drove home and my face was still red.
Tomorrow I have one final moderately long ride with a short run. The forecast tells me I might be on the trainer. I’ve been riding the trainer without a fan and to really kick things up a notch, I might ride tomorrow in my wetsuit and fleece balaclava. Laugh at me all you want but I’m racing on a volcanic island. I might just put my trainer in front of the oven. On broil.
Speaking of that island – we leave in less than a week and there will be 11 of us on the plane. If you have any tips for how to survive a 9 hour flight with 3 children under age 3, we are listening. Aside from: don’t, ear plugs, get a seat reassignment, wine and Benadryl. Can you tell, I am bringing an entire Waterstraat entourage. Now that Normann is retired there is plenty of room on the island for an entourage. Why not Waterstraats? Someone will be wheeling my bike along Alii Drive and we’ll all be wearing matching shirts and talking a foreign language – which is a mixture of English, baby talk, Tagalog and Spanish. If you hear us and don’t understand us, it’s because we’re talking about you.
The race will be exciting. So will the entire week with my family. But perhaps most exciting? After the race I’ve decided to make a change. I’ve given this a lot of thought. Something is missing in my life and it’s time to make some change
I’ve decided … to become addicted to coffee again.
And with that, I’ll let you talk amongst yourselves while I go back to tapering.