The Endurance Athlete’s Taper Week Guide Part 3: Your Mental Performance Plan
Mental Performance Coach Neil Edge shares tips for managing the ‘Taper Week Crazies” so you can arrive at your race feeling confident and strong
Part Three of our Taper week guide takes us to the body, how do you train in that final week leading up to your race. Be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 for your taper week meal plan and Training Guide.
You’ve put in months of hard work, training tirelessly for the big race. The event is just a week or two away and it’s time to pull back and taper.
As your body rests and readies itself for the upcoming physical undertaking, your mind tends to wander. Taper week(s) creates a mix of emotions and permeating thoughts. “Have I trained hard enough? What is that tickle in my throat? Will I make the cut-offs? Will I hit my time goals?” These creeping suspicions start to take over and cloud our rational thinking.
Feelings follow thoughts, and you find yourself feeling tired, stressed and in some cases, sick with a cold. You may also notice that you are waking in the middle of the night, finding it difficult to get back to sleep. That snowballs into, “will I have enough energy on race day?” This hits particularly hard for athletes who experience anxiety, whether that is general anxiety or social anxiety (specifically performance anxiety).
So let’s take a look at what’s really going on here…
Have I Trained Enough?
With just a week left to go, no additional training, bike rides or runs will improve your performance on race day. On the flip side, these last minute “panic sessions” could lead to injury. So just sit with the knowledge that you’ve put in the work and are physically ready to execute on race day.
Remember, our thoughts dictate our actions, our actions dictate our reality.
- “I didn’t swim enough during training” = Enter the race with wavering confidence → you don’t push as hard in the swim → miss the swim cut-off
- “I didn’t do enough strength training” = My legs won’t be able to withstand the run → ease up on the bike → lose time → try to make it up on the run → burn out
Our brain is programmed to focus on negative thoughts so instead of letting these negative biases affect our thinking, we must focus on exactly what we can control/what we are doing right now.
A simple technique is just to tell yourself to “stop” and immediately focus on something else.
Get into the habit of doing this each time you notice your thoughts wandering and you will find that this alone will help you regain focus on the present.
Meditation is also a wonderful tool for this.
Q: What is that tickle in my throat?
There are several reasons why athletes are prone to colds in the week(s) leading up to a race. The lack of sleep reduces the body’s defence mechanisms, the stress decreases the white blood cells (which help us to fight off infections) and the constant obsessing over every cough, sneeze and niggle may actually result in a cold.
So be sure to rest when you can, eat a well balanced diet (with ample vitamin C), stay hydrated and reframe negative thoughts.
Q: Why does my foot hurt all of a sudden?
There is a term called phantom pains, which is defined as a completely new ache or problem area that appears out of nowhere.
During a taper your body enters a longer term rejuvenation process. Previously this process would be halted by the consistent training stress. During this time, the body is heavily focused on tissue repair at a cellular level. This healing process creates more tissue and can can sometimes cause some twitches, aches and pains.
In addition, hormones start to level out, particularly cortisol which is increased by training stress. Cortisol does many things for the body, one trait however is the pain signals to the brain. With this consistently lower level of cortisol you are in a sense, feeling pains that had always been there but were previously masked.
This is all completely normal and part of the body’s healing process, this is why you taper! It’s helpful to get ahead of these thoughts, look at each twinge or ache as a sign that your body is doing it’s job to get you in top shape for race day. Physically, recovery care is always helpful, stretching, massage therapy, heat and cold treatment as necessary.
Q: Will I make the cut-offs? Will I hit my time goals?
It is important to have a good race, but should “good” be solely determined based on the numbers you have assigned to your swim, bike and run? Don’t get bogged down in the minutia of numbers, thresholds, heart rates, power, cadence etc.
The reality is that the upcoming triathlon is simply a swim, ride and run—all of which you have done countless times before—and the only reason that it may appear to be more than it is, is because you are allowing thoughts to have a greater hold on you than they should.
If you feel tired during the swim, slow your stroke rate down or stop for a minute or so to regroup. If you are feeling overly tired on the bike, adjust your cadence and gear accordingly. On the run, slow to a jog or walk as needed. Temperature, race conditions, fueling, etc., all have a hand in the day’s performance, and most of it is entirely out of your control.
You will likely have many people supporting you either in person, or from a far, on race day. Manage their expectations by giving them a rough idea of when you are likely to complete the various legs of the race. They are there to cheer you on. You will not let them down if you miss a mark. Your race is for you. Those around you will support you regardless of podium finishes and age group accolades.
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Neil Edge is an experienced Triathlon Mental Performance Coach, working with age groupers and pros. He works with triathletes to overcome fear of open water and fast descents, setbacks including a less than expected performance and injury, increasing motivation, removing performance anxiety and building confidence and resilience.
For more information about Neil’s courses, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please feel free to connect via the following links.
Online Course: https://neiledge.com/course-2/