Overcoming the Taper Blues

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It's race season, and in the next few weeks most triathletes will reduce training volume, commonly called taper, in order to feel rested for important races. As athletes begin the taper process, some notice they feel down and experience "the blues."

Not all athletes experience the same feelings, or combination of feelings, but it's common to experience taper blues. The list below can help you identify if you've experienced any of the common taper symptoms. Being aware of these feelings can help you handle them properly, and ensure your tapering remains on track.

If this is your first season of racing, the list can help you recognize common taper symptoms.

Common Taper Symptoms

  • At the beginning of the taper, some athletes say they feel more tired than when they were putting in long training hours. For those who are tapering their volume over several weeks, this feeling leads to a temptation to resume higher volume. Resist the temptation; it'll pay off on race day.
  • When tapering for a key race, many athletes feel flat and fatigued during the final workouts, wondering how they'll ever make it through the event. This feeling can sometimes cause athletes to test themselves on the actual race course or distance to be sure they can make it. This is what I call fear-based training—and giving into this feeling can harm your performance.
  • As the taper continues, many athletes notice (or more likely their family and friends notice first) that they're slightly grouchy—OK, some athletes are more than just a little grumpy. Often, family and friends will urge the athlete to put in more hours, in desperate hope of extinguishing the foul mood. Take their comments and observations to heart and lighten-up. Apologize for any over-the-edge behaviors and educate your family and friends about the tapering process.
  • Roughly half the athletes I work with begin to notice little aches and pains they never noticed before the taper period. The pains show up for no apparent reason. In fact, these pains were nonexistent during the high-volume training phase, making it tempting to resume longer training hours. If aches and pains emerge, resist the urge to increase training volume.
  • Some athletes may feel slightly blue or depressed the week before the race. Others feel they have so much energy they'll go nuts if they don't work out. Don't act on either of these feelings—just let them pass.
  • Within one or two days of the race, most athletes feel good. They're typically ready to race and are anxious to race—immediately! This feeling is exactly what you want, and why you've tapered your training volume. Unfortunately, the feeling comes late in the taper process and it takes a leap of faith if you've never experienced the feeling of racing with a rested body.

If training volume has been tapered and you've maintained some speed work during the tapering process, you'll be strong and fast on race day. Once the race has started, butterflies tend to disperse and feelings of confidence take over. This is your day to be at your best—enjoy it!