Sunday, February 17, 2008

faith in the taper

the taper into race day is always a tricky thing.

if the taper goes on for too long or if it's too easy, you lose all the conditioning you had to suffer so much over so many miles over so many months to get. if it's too short or too hard, you never recover from the last overload of the final build phase and become mired in a malaise of fatigue. either way, you show up on race day at less than your best.

the general idea behind the taper is to allow yourself time (physically and mentally) to heal and recharge, with the goal of hitting a point of peak performance that coincides with your target race date. by the time you hit the taper, you've (hopefully) hit the high points of your training in terms of volume and intensity, and have (hopefully) built up the conditioning you'll need to draw upon on race day, and so (hopefully) can focus on simply getting ready.

in some ways, this is easy. by the time you end your final build phase and hit the taper you're often sore, usually tired, perpetually fatigued, and very much more than happy to do all of the above.

but in many ways, it can also be incredibly difficult. in the back of your mind is the memory of the sacrifices you had to make and the suffering you had to endure to get to the point you are now. the mere thought of all your hard-earned conditioning eroding in the recovery weeks before race day is more than enough to drive you to a state that can only be described in psycho-analytic terms such as paranoia, schizophrenia, hypochondria, neurosis, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anal retentiveness. you're constantly questioning if you've trained, rested, or eaten too much, too little, or entirely wrong. you're constantly fighting the temptation to go back and fit in one more build week, one more training session, one more overload. it's enough to drive you insane.

people tell you to resist these trials as just another one of the many tribulations of Ironman. they tell you that you have to trust the taper. to just let go, and above all, relax.

there's some very clear, very specific reasons for this. apart from the mental need to clear the mind and focus on the challenge that will be race day, there's certain physical processes that have to occur. from a medical science perspective, your body engages in a biochemical restorative sequence of reactions at the molecular level that reconstruct cell integrity and restore their energy-generating mitochondria. in addition, glycogen stores are replenished, neuro-muscular pathways are built, muscle tissues are constructed, blood vessels are expanded, and aerobic capacity is increased--essentially, everything you need to maximize the efficiency of oxygen consumption in the breakdown of adenosine tri-phosphate, which releases the energy that fuels the muscles that will carry you over the 140.6 miles of Ironman.

all of this takes time. free of stress or disruption. and hence, they call for the reduction in training in the weeks before race day.

but there's another reason why, too.

all of this is something you can't see, or sense, or monitor, or control. meaning that you have no idea if it is happening, or even if is true. it's a mystery crossing into the mystical with nothing more than the promise of a a result, it's a phenomenon that at its core is really asking you to believe.

you are, in essence, asked to have faith.

this is supremely ironic in a sport--in a world--driven by the material and the measurable. especially given the very real, very hard brutality that is the life you live on race day. the only things that matter then is what can be seen, or sensed, or monitored, or controlled.

but the funny thing is that you know, deep down inside, in places and in ways that only come out in the suffering of the long miles far out in the distance, that this is when faith--your faith--matters most.

because what you are asking for is itself a miracle. to go the distance, to do the race, to journey as far as is humanly possible, to reach the finish of the end within the sight of all creation. and somehow, within that time, come to an understanding of yourself, your world, and your God as much as you can know him.

you want all of this to happen. you want it to be true.

so that the mystery of all mysteries can become more than mystical, and the promise of a miracle can be made manifest.

and this is really why you believe.

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