Out There: The 5 Stages Of Pre-Race Tapering

Do either of these stages sound familiar? Illustration: N.C. Winters

Taper week is different for everyone, but it’s usually not much fun.

Tapering is the devil. Of this I am certain.

Tapering is supposed to be the final week or two of your training program where you do a lot less running and get a lot more rest. Well, I don’t do well with rest of any sort. Whether it’s a planned rest day or a forced hiatus for injury rehabilitation, sitting still makes me fidgety and impatient, like a 5-year-old on a road trip: “Can I run yet? How about now? Now?”

But tapering brings about its own special strain of impatience. Not only do I have jittery butterflies about my upcoming race, but I can’t run off the anxiety. Taper week means I lose my hard workouts, the one thing that keeps me sane. Yes, you read that right — training keeps me sane. If you already thought I was a few tacos short of a fiesta platter, I guarantee you don’t want to see me during taper week.

Do you remember the 5 Stages of Grief, the 1960s theory from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross? Turns out the same stages apply to tapering, too. Our girl Elisabeth must have been a marathoner. Actual snippets from my recent taper week:

Stage 1: Denial

“It’s taper time! Woo-hoo! I’m going to use this new free time to take naps and catch up on my reading. Maybe I’ll do some laundry, too, and bake cookies for the kids. Gosh, so much free time this week! Let’s relax! I LOVE TAPERING!”

Stage 2: Anger

“I’m not yelling at you, honey. I’m just very calmly stating that I don’t appreciate your observations about my snacking. Don’t look at me with that face. What is your problem? I’m not emotional-eating because of nerves; I’m carb-loading, and frankly, you and your amateur psychology can just go fu … HEY! Who the [bleep] ate all my cookie dough?”

RELATED: Out There: An Open Letter To Runners Everywhere

Stage 3: Bargaining

“Dear Endurance Gods, I woke up this morning with a scratchy throat. I know I am probably jumping the gun here, but I Googled ‘scratchy throat’ and I now I think I either have Parrot Fever or something called Chikungunya. Please don’t let me get sick so close to race day. I promise, Endurance Gods, if you heal me now I’ll give up cupcakes forever and I’ll never sleep in on hill repeats day again.”

Stage 4: Depression

“Hey, guys, did you check the weather forecast? Since when are 60 mph wind gusts considered ‘moderately severe’ weather? I don’t do well in breezy conditions, much less hurricane-force winds. Why does this kind of thing always happen to me? Also, I went to the race expo today, and everyone there had a body like a Kenyan and a confident swagger; Meanwhile, I can’t even make a decision on which shorts to wear. I’m such a loser. Maybe I shouldn’t race.”

Stage 5: Acceptance

I suppose tapering isn’t a bad thing. I didn’t take any naps, but my body still seems to be rested. My Parrot Fever-slash-Chikungunya seems to have gone into remission, too. It’s a miracle! Praise be to the Endurance Gods! (You know I was only joking about the cupcake thing, right?)

I feel good! Great, as a matter of fact. Dare I say it? I think I’m ready to race.

RELATED: Out There: Overtraining? No, Not Me

This column first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.

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About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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