An Unconventional Approach to Tapering

A week until my next Ironman and once again I feel woefully underprepared. Pre-race nerves have a schedule as well timed as my final weeks of preparation. Anxiety grows, doubts form and I look to my training diary for reassurance. Ultimately this blog relieves the tension, giving me the means to express those doubts and excuse the performance to follow. Then there’s a calm acceptance, knowing there’s nothing more I can do I focus on the task at hand.

This time it’s different. This time I may genuinely be underprepared. The doubts have a basis in fact; they’re not driven by nerves – I’m surprisingly calm. I have no idea what race day will bring, but I know there’s nothing to be done now. The three weeks gone have been the worst this season, it would stretch credibility to claim I’ve trained.

Week one was expected. Following Epic Camp and the huge training load that entailed, a week off was in the plan. The fatigue was remarkable, my intentions to utilise the free time productively proved well meaning, but unrealistic. I slept, I ate and seven days later I raced. The National Relays were a mistake – seven days of nothing and then intensity, it was too much. One week of recovery was optimistic.

Week two I hoped to return to training, but the relays seemed to have deepened my fatigue. Normally a sprint would go unnoticed, at most a little soreness the following day. I was tired, motivation was low. Just as I seemed to be picking up I succumbed to the cough that had spread through camp a fortnight before. Tired and sick, I lost the remainder of the week and my morale dropped further. Two weeks of recovery was still acceptable.

Week three was an opportunity to put things back on track. I couldn’t build fitness, but I shouldn’t need to; I simply needed to get the body used to exercise again, rebuild some form. I tried. Motivation wasn’t there. Some days I felt drained, others ill, it seemed to be one or the other. No consistency, volume, or intensity. Three weeks of recovery felt like fitness was slipping away.

Which leads to week four, race week. Since Epic Camp I’ve averaged two hours training per week. Nothing. But this is the confusing part – when I have trained, I’ve been fine. Pace, power, heart rate, whatever the metric they’ve been good. The original lethargy has vanished, replaced with the aches and pains from unfamiliar actions. A huge weight of fatigue has been lifted from me, but I don’t know what it’s left behind. I feel surprisingly fit for someone who has done so little.

What can I do in race week? I’m so far away from any plan there’s no point trying to conform to a conventional taper; I don’t need more recovery. Rather than reduce the load, I’ll increase it – daily training to re-familiarise my body with exercise. What the last three weeks might have cost in fitness I’ll try to compensate for in freshness and form. I was very fit before this, it might just work.

An unintended tapering experiment. This season has already raised question about my training, particularly in the area of recovery. Three weeks of rest following the most intensive training block I can recall may be what was needed. The experiment concludes on Sunday and should I race well I’ll be pondering my approach to tapers.

These aren’t my usual excuses – I have no idea how I’ll perform next weekend. I’ll deal with the day as it comes. I have the fitness and the experience to handle whatever is thrown at me. There’s nothing more I can do, but execute the plan.