I've had the taper crazies for the last two weeks! Have you ever had them? Perhaps you were never properly diagnosed!
Tapering is the process of reducing training volume, frequency and intensity in the final weeks leading up to a race. The optimal length is 7 days to 3 weeks, depending on the distance of the race. Too short a taper will leave you feeling tired on race day, while tapering too long will lead to a loss of fitness, so it is important to maintain a proper balance. One would think that getting more rest would make you feel great, but the truth is tapering isn’t fun and most athletes dread it because of unfavorable side effects. Hence the connotation that floats around the athletic community of having the “taper crazies.”
Below is a list of five common symptoms and treatments.
Symptoms: It never fails. You feel fine during training, but new pains suddenly pop up during the taper period, occurring in the knee, foot, back, hip or any other body part. Why now? Most researchers believe this is part of the body’s normal repair and rejuvenation process that can cause muscle twitches, cramps and even pain, as the body heals. A reduced level of endorphins from a reduction in training volume leads to a lower pain threshold, which is ineffective at masking these symptoms. Furthermore, with anticipation building as the event approaches, you become hyper sensitive to anything related to your ability to perform optimally on race day.
Treatment: Help your muscles and joints recovery with some TLC. Move, stretch and enjoy a massage, hot shower or bath. Use a foam roller or fascia blaster. Try SportVenom Muscle Medicine for a pain relieving, spot treatment.
Symptoms: Regular aerobic activity boosts the production of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which are neurotransmitters that regulate mood and drive feelings of calm and happiness. In the build-up to the race, levels of these “feel good” hormones are increasing and bring elevated levels of mood. However, during the taper exercise is reduced drastically and results in a corresponding rapid drop in the production of these mood hormones. Consequently, the brain can’t adapt fast enough to this change and the crash causes feelings of irritability, melancholy and slight depression.
Treatment: Stay away from coffee and alcohol, as these items can exacerbate symptoms. Go for a walk and get some sunlight to help boost your Vitamin D intake, which is a natural serotonin booster. Try an herbal supplement like St. John’s Wort, which has antidepressant effects.
Anxiety and Nerves
Symptoms: A fear of failure leads to anxiety and nervousness. During the taper period questions and doubts are amplified. Did I train enough? Will my phantom injury hurt my performance? Am I losing fitness? I just sneezed, am I catching a cold? Will the weather be nice on race day? Maybe I should squeeze in another workout? These are perfectly normal human reactions and feelings in anticipation to a stressful event, especially one that you’ve been training for months. Plus, anxiety and nerves are amplified due to lower levels of serotonin and dopamine as mentioned above.
Treatment: The power of positive thinking is enormous. Visualize a successful race day, from the moment you wake, to the moment you cross the finish line. Surround yourself with family and friends. Use aromatherapy essential oils like Bergamot, Frankincense and Lavender, which are proven to increase mood and promote calmness. Try SportVenom Muscle Wash or Foot Sauce for a relaxing and therapeutic bath soak to calm your mind and body.
Fatigue and Lethargy
Symptoms: It’s common for athletes to feel tired, sluggish and lethargic during the taper. Less training means more glycogen and water is stored in the muscles. This causes a feeling of heavy legs and general malaise, similar to what it feels like after you eat a big meal. Additionally, the process of muscle and tissue repair at the microscopic level during the taper drains the body’s energy reserves. Even short, easy workouts feel tedious and tiresome.
Treatment: Keep your body loose by doing light workouts, with intermittent bouts at race-pace intensity. Go to bed early and get extra rest in the final week before the race. Try SportVenom Fly Feet, which is made with Peppermint and Eucalyptus, two energizing and invigorating essential oils.
Symptoms: Stress and anxiety often produce food cravings that push people toward high-fat, sugary foods. For example, the adrenal glands release cortisol, which increases appetite and ramps up motivation to eat. Another problem is the ubiquitous “carb loading” before a race, which is a strategy to maximize muscle glycogen to extend endurance and help prevent hitting the wall. The problem occurs when athletes take this as a free pass to eat anything they want or carbohydrate load for too long. Following your normal diet, combined with a reduction in training volume, should allow for adequate loading, without the need to ingest excessive amounts of additional carbohydrates.
Treatment: Increase protein intake, as this will reduce your appetite and keep you full longer. Drink more water because thirst is often confused with hunger. Satisfy your sweet tooth naturally with a low calorie, all-natural sweetener like Stevia instead of sugar. Replace unhealthy deserts with healthy alternatives, such as yogurt and berries instead of ice cream. Keep your blood sugar stable by eating small, frequent snacks and meals throughout the day.
Luckily, I only have to suffer two more days, until I race in my first Ironman 70.3 in Maine!