Hello taper my old friend
There's a week to go until Hever Castle 70.3 'The Gauntlet'.
1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21km run
Probably more easily recognised as a half-Ironman distance, this race is not a half Ironman. Notably because - and I did not learn this until a year ago - 'Ironman' is a brand not the name of the distance.The Ironman event comes with the 'M-DOT' logo (and sometimes tattoo) and Mike Reilly announcing your name and that 'You are an Ironman' as you cross the line. Ironman also do 70.3 distance races but this isn't one of them.... anyway...
Basically, it's a long way to swim, a long way to cycle and a long way to run. And myself and a few hundred other people will be doing them all back to back around the stunning grounds and countryside at Hever Castle in Kent. This coming week and last week are part of my 'taper', the period coming up to a race where you've peaked your training and fitness and it's time to reserve some energy before the big day.
Taper can be a struggle
This time, however, I'm doing fine. There's a lot of reasons for that:
1) Experience - The more races I have done, the better I have become at dealing with the anxiety and restlessness of the taper period.
2) Excitement - I shit you not, I just watched the trailer video for the event and I actually shuddered with excitement. I CANNOT WAIT.
3) I'm Ready - Physically, I've never been stronger or fitter and mentally I was hella ready for taper to come around. The last few weeks of peak training were mentally exhausting for me and I was MORE THAN READY to take the foot off the gas.
4) I Have a Plan - I know what I like to eat the night before, I know how I'm going to organise my packing (triathlons are a nightmare for this), I know what sleep stories I'll be using to help me relax the night before and I know what I'm doing afterwards. So much of pre-race nerves is about feeling out of control so I've now got a solid routine around what I can control and it really really helps.
The first time I tapered properly (and was really scared of an event) was the London Marathon in 2016. I was a nervous wreck for an entire week beforehand and a fidgety, emotional bundle of irritability two weeks out. As much as you can read about how the reduction in activity combined with a looming event can affect you, it's hard to know what that really means until it happens. Over the last three years I've honed the routines and comforts that work for me and things have hugely improved.
This particular taper period coincides with the end of our first month in Sheffield and one in which I am (so far) unemployed. This makes distracting myself from the nerves and fidgets that bit more tricky and reduces the pool of people in my immediate vicinity that I can moan to about it. Nevertheless I am feeling relaxed, ready and content. I love the rhythm and challenge of training but boy am I ready to go on some runs and rides with no structure where I can get really lost around these parts. To be excited about the event itself and the period after is new for me, usually I can't see any further than the day itself and I feel somewhat lost once it's all over.
Something I should put down in words, though, is that unlike Paris Marathon when I tried to get back to training too soon and sprained my ankle, I intend to heed my own advice this time. Recovery from periods of training is as much about mental recovery than physical. Take the amount of time you think you need off, and then add some more.
I've done more hard work for this than for anything else ever and I am genuinely immensely proud of that. The event itself is just the victory lap, a celebration.