Nothing drives me insane like tapering before a race. I’m always amazed by how quickly you can go from feeling like a confident, finely tuned machine to a mopey, pathetic lump. Without the endorphin-induced confidence of a recent workout, it becomes all too easy to second guess preparedness and entertain dark thoughts about a looming race.
I propose that the DSM-5 recognize a new disorder: Severe Exercise Withdrawal Actuated Gloom and Edginess (SEWAGE). SEWAGE is associated with a wide range of symptoms including despondency, listlessness, reduced self-esteem, aggression, self-doubt, compulsive behaviour, hypochondria and withdrawal from society.
Aggression? You snap at family members and friends. Self-doubt? You become convinced that your fitness is slipping away. Compulsive behaviour? You obsess over equipment and diet, check the weather forecast every hour and pore over race results. Hypochondria? You are certain that the tickle in your throat or minor ache in your leg portends an impending health crisis.
Here’s how my taper usually plays out. I train like mad the week before the race to “store up” some fitness for the coming exercise drought. Six to four days before, I resist the urge to cram in extra workouts. I begin to detect a hint of SEWAGE. I continually remind myself that I am tapering and inform everyone I know. But really, I only reduce my training by a token amount. I’m convinced that by pretending to taper you can trick your body into recovering. This strategy has yet to be scientifically validated.
Three to two days before the race, I grudgingly begin to taper in earnest. Workouts are replaced with moping around the house, endorphin highs with bouts of self-pity. SEWAGE fills my head. I still train more than I probably should, if only to cling to some vestige of sanity.
Several geological eras pass and the day before the race finally arrives. By now, I’m hopefully feeling more positive. Regardless of the outcome, the race itself is always a cathartic experience, a physical and mental release of pent up energy, frustration and anxiety.
I could make a crude joke involving porta-potties, SEWAGE and getting it all out of your system on race morning, but we’re too old for toilet humour.
Now I’m probably being a little overdramatic. But if you train hard and race with expectations, you are certainly familiar with at least some of what I described. It’s a bona fide fact that all endurance athletes are inherently a little crazy… some more than others.
PS: I decided to scratch the Guelph Summer Night 5k and do the next race in the Subaru Series, Peterborough Sprint Triathlon. I doubt it’s advisable to enter a race on a whim half a week before the date. For a self-confessed control freak like me it feels a little reckless… but in a good, exciting way.