Tapering rarely ever feels awesome. If you are less experienced, tapering can really play tricks with you mentally because you will often feel worse before you feel better. It can feel like you are all over the place with mood, emotion and physical well-being. There are two main reasons for the roller coaster ride you may be finding yourself on during a taper.
- You are Tired. When you accumulate training load in the body it takes time to unload all of it. Deeper fatigue from higher volume Ironman training takes longer than a few days to recover from. If you don’t feel great in the first week don’t panic. Tapers are typically 2-4 weeks in length for a reason. It’s important that you have enough time to unload and then sharpen up for the race. You may feel really crappy initially and you may even think you are losing fitness but this is not true. The fact is you are just tired at a deeper level than you may be used to. So respect that and rest.
- You are experiencing withdrawal. Endurance sports are like a drug. We don’t often talk about it in this way because the association is not always a nice one to make but the fact is, you become addicted to the workload. Training and physical efforts cause chemical and hormonal changes in the body. Endorphins are the most widely known and act on the body the way morphine does to inhibit the transmission of pain signals and they can also produce a feeling of euphoria similar to opioids. When the training load decreases or you have a few days off you are quite literally coming down from the lack of endorphins in your system. This can make you feel tired, moody, irritable, out of shape and anxious.
Knowledge is power and sometimes knowing what you are experiencing can make the roller coaster ride more tolerable. The most important thing to remember is that YOU ARE GOING TO BE OK! You are not out of shape and you are not losing fitness. In fact, as the taper rolls on and your body unloads all of the deeper fatigue you are allowing space for your body to achieve an even greater level of fitness. You will also experience a greater sense of well being mentally as time progresses. Have faith in the process because great things can happen at the end of a taper.