How To Survive The Ironman Triathlon Taper

I am driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway as we inch towards Lake Placid, New York where I will be racing my third Ironman triathlon. I’m listening to some great music, hearing my kids sing along and laugh in the back seat. I smile at the perfection of that very moment until I see I hill.

Is that hill as steep as what I will find in Lake Placid? What grade is it? Would I be able to climb it? Did I pack my shoes? If raining will I slide? Did the mechanic check my breaks? Am I sniffling? Oh crap I have a cold. My son taps my seat drumming to the tune I was just singing with him when I yell at him to stop it and leave me alone. I lower the volume and throw a bucket of ice water on our collective good mood “it’s too loud, I have a headache.”


Could I climb this?

Could I climb this?

Ah, the taper tantrums: those two weeks before an Ironman where all hell breaks loose. Fortunately, I am no longer a victim of these wild swings. I’m not immune. I fill my Twitter feed with my anxiety but I behave better with those I love. I know what to expect and am comfortable with my goals.

But what if I’m confident because I’m in denial? When is confidence true, when can you really believe you are ready and not worry that you are simply fooling yourself? The line between confidence and denial is so thin and so blurry it’s hard to know which side I’m on. But the absolute worst place to be is smack in the middle, with one foot on each side.

Taper face

Taper face

That is precisely what tapering is to me. It’s a constant struggle between trusting my training, and berating the missed workouts. If you are like me, here are a few tips to survive the taper tantrums:

  • Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. Thoughts don’t cost a dime but are worth millions. You could lie awake at night and think yourself into a frenzy of things that may or may not happen: swim punch, bike malfunction, leg cramp to name a few. Or you could lay at night and visualize yourself finishing smiling. If you try the latter, chances are you will indeed get some good rest that night. No stinking thinking.
  • Control the things you can control. There is nothing you can do about the weather or about getting a flat. But you can be prepared for those by having the gear you need and knowing what to do. Same with nutrition. You don’t know if by mile 135 that gel will make you want to vomit. What you can do is feed your body the healthy things it needs until you get there.
Think you can do something about a radar image like that?

Think you can do something about a radar image like that?

  • Put life into perspective. Unless you are a pro, Ironman is a race most of us do FOR FUN. But the world is much bigger than Ironman, heck, it’s much bigger than triathlon. It seems like such a big deal right now, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not. Think of all the other things that are in your life: family, travel, and even work. Then remember triathlon is not the end all. Even if you consider a DNF as a failure, it’s the DNF that’s the failure … not you as a person.
  • Recognize how far you’ve come. Remember DNF is not a failure. Not starting is. Not reaching a time goal is NOT a failure, not having one is. How many people dream of doing something like this but convince themselves they cannot? How many people are too afraid to take risks? That’s not you. Sure, it would be awesome to finish at your goal time but the true test of character is having had the courage to start.
Having that number trumps DNT "did not try"

Having that number trumps DNT “did not try”

  • Engage in escapism. The week before an Ironman is absurdly crazy. There is so much to do but yet there is plenty of time for everything. Chillax. STOP thinking about the race, peel yourself off the computer where you’ve read the same race review over and over again (unless I wrote it). Disengage from the ten Facebook groups you belong to. Go to the movies, go for a nice run for the fun of it, play some dominoes, read a book. Whatever. Get your mind OFF this thing even if for a while.
I have been escaping my thoughts with all sorts of adventures including a misty river expedition.

I have been escaping my thoughts with all sorts of adventures including a misty river expedition.

  • Remove yourself. Sometimes you just can’t help being a bit$$, sometimes all my tactics fail. Instead of lashing out, understand little Johnny did not step in the puddle just to irritate you and big Joe didn’t suggest a seafood dinner just to mess with your sanity. It’s you that’s crazy … not them. Put yourself on a time out and spare them.

Image 7

Understand a taper tantrum is normal, but it doesn’t have to rule you nor does it have to envelope everyone around you.  Relax, I was told years ago to have fun as an Ironman is a fully catered long workout with 2,500 of your closest friends.  Plus, the more complicated it gets …. the better the story.  I can’t wait to hear yours.

How do you deal with tapering? Any strategies I missed?


2 thoughts on “How To Survive The Ironman Triathlon Taper

  1. Love this and remind me about this when it is my time to do a taper, when ever it will be.
    I can’t wait to cheer you on next weekend!!
    You Got This!!

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