A gradual decrease, or so says Merriam-Webster. It is one of my least favorite things to do.
I'm a fan of increases. I like spring, when the days get longer, though the fall is tolerable because each Sunday the NFL season heats up. I like to increase things like my weekly mileage, my waistline, how soaked my towel is from yoga, or the number of bicycles hanging in my garage. More is better, right?
Well, actually, maybe not. I'm far below a position of enlightened wisdom, but I have learned a few things about minimalism over the past year or so. I've purged a bunch of junk (and even a few useful items) from my stockpile when I realized it is now cheaper and easier to just order what you need when you actually need it rather than having it sitting around in some box somewhere that you won't be able to find anyway.
How does any of that relate to fitness? Good question. I'm not sure I know the answer. And now I sound like Andy Rooney.
Let's just skip to the fun facts. My best races have all come after weeks that don't truly qualify as taper weeks. Before my RnR marathon PR I went hog wild on a track workout with coach Kevin McCarey, running within a second or two of my 400 PR on the last 1/4. Before my Chicago marathon PR, I did some similarly short intervals with Paul and Sean on Neptune that were in the same general ballpark. Of course these are very limited data points and even a clear correlation over multiple years of racing does not prove causation. But the point is that intensity and strong racing go hand in hand for me.
My running mentor and punisher, Luc Teyton, did his best to leverage what he knew about my tendencies when he prepared me for my semi-lackluster attempts at a marathon PR on the CIM course. He knew I responded best when given a healthy workload during the final weeks of preparation. However, sometimes the body is not ready to peak when the mind wants it to, and in those situations it really doesn't matter what sort of taper is used, the race is doomed. There are other times, the best case scenarios, when it feels like your body can handle anything you throw at it and those are exactly the moments when I've been able to race at my best. If I'm peaking and feeling physically invincible, the desire to suffer is the key metric, as opposed to any physical or physiological marker. I'm not the type of person who can fill my can of whoop ass during a rest week and un-cork it on Saturday. I'm not the type of guy who can lay low and be calm and prepare for battle in the shadows. I need to feel like I'm on the edge, especially so during race week, in order to achieve what I am capable of. I need to feel the burn, the pain, the intensity, every bit as much leading up to the race as in the weeks of prior training.
Taper for me is a strange word. I know I'm at my best when I don't really talk or think about tapering. But I also know that my tendency to overdo, to overindulge, carries risk. I've had plenty of flat races from cumulative fatigue over weeks of heavy training and excessive racing.
This week feels like a good one. I feel hungry. I feel ready, willing, and able to suffer, and that emotion is peeking out in what I've done this week. I've already surprised myself a few times with how far I've pushed things. With 36 hours to go, I await my chance to destroy myself with eager anticipation.
I wrote this yesterday, before my afternoon run which was predictably horrible. And so the ebb and flow continues. Then again, sometimes having a really lousy run the day or two before a race is a blessing because it helps center your mind and body and set your expectations at the appropriate level. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, it's a good mantra for just about anything.