Ah, the mystifying, terrible and ultimately this is the best ever phase of training, taper. For some swimmers it provides a respite from the never-ending intervals into that quick and effortless speed, and for others it is an awful two weeks of neurosis and self-doubt.
Wherever you may fall in the mental landscape of tapering athletes, here are 15 signs that you are hitting your taper–
1. You don’t fall asleep in the car on the way home from practice. The first time you walk out of the pool under your own power after practice you can’t help but feel a little weird. Typically your friend/sister/mom have to drag you from the change room to the car, toss you in the backseat where you promptly fall into a murmuring, twitchy state of sleep. No more violent head-bob-and-snaps from passing out in the car. Sweet!
2. You are Googling every random physical ache or tweak. During taper we are hyper-sensitive to what is happening with our body. Now that all of the exhausting, mind and body numbing work is behind us, and our bodies are rushing to recoup and recover, we find that any little ache or pain has the potential to turn into a career- ending (or more importantly—race-canceling) injury. The mass of our usual training would generally mask these “small” aches and bouts of soreness, but with recovery in full swing every little nick, ache, and twitch is vastly over-analyzed to the point you are considering tacking an “M.D.” to the end of your last name.
3. You have this weird thing called “energy”. There’s just…well, so much of it.
4. You catch yourself experiencing training remorse. Known as the last minute cram, this taper symptom is common. Sure, you have worked hard in the past few months, but even though your body is on the mend, you catch yourself wishing you had an extra couple weeks of training to cram in.
5. You are almost positive that you have gained 18 pounds since the taper began. Yes, coach reminded you to maybe not indulge on the usual 4th bowl of pasta after practice, but habits are hard to break. The parents, meanwhile, seem delighted that the grocery bills have declined, if only marginally.
6. You find yourself over-analyzing your technique. Did I always streamline with my right hand on top of my left hand? Has the angle on my feet when pushing off always been exactly 43 degrees? How did I never think about this before?
7. Training blackout. It is not long into taper that you begin to sense that creeping sensation that you might, that you might just, yup—you’re getting out of shape. It doesn’t take long for us to forget that we did indeed swim a laughable amount of metres over the past couple months. One easy day at the pool and all of that training is all for nothing.
8. During practice you simultaneously feel sluggish and fast at the same time. One lap you feel like you are sailing across the water, the next you are a rusty old barge, and on some laps you experience both symptoms at the same time.
9. You’ve developed a sudden, paranoid germ phobia. You suspiciously eye the hands of your friends when they outstretch for a handshake. You cover your hands with the sleeve of your shirt when you open doors. And public washrooms? Yeah, right.
10. You go from over-the-moon optimistic to down-in-the-ditch anguished in the span of seconds. How quick and suddenly you go from “I am going to swim fast!” to “I am going to swim like molasses.” Generally speaking you are a rational, logical person—except for when you are in taper. For those unaccustomed to these mood swings it can be a bit of a shock—after all, they are probably more used to seeing you pass out in class and the back of the parents’ mini-van.
11. You are on the constant lookout for signs of how you will swim. Positive reinforcement is welcomed wherever you can get it—favorite song is on the radio before you walk into practice? That sounds like a gold medal to me. Got partnered up with the kid you don’t get along with for an assignment at school? Definitely going to get DQ’d. Taper madness means that we look for any external sign or suggestion as to how we will swim on the big day, and there is no sign small enough.
12. Your competition gear is framed and mounted in the living room. Nobody touch it, nobody look at it, nobody even think about thinking about it. That being said, you can’t help but try it all on every day the week before the big meet.
13. Chronic list making. What are you going to pack for the meet? What are you going to listen to on your iPod between warm-up and your race? What are you going to wear that keeps you warm—but not uncomfortably warm—between races? Which towel should you bring? Which foot should you use to step up on the blocks?
14. Overwhelming fear of exhausting yourself. When friends and family ask you to do something, anything, during taper, the answer is a prompt shake of the head and—“I’m on taper.” Housework? You’re adorable, Mom. Socializing with friends? Over Skype maybe. School assignments? Maybe, if I could find a way not to burn any brain energy. If it were possible to lay in bed all day wearing a bubble wrapped suit, with a bio-dome of anti-bacterial spray protecting us we would.
15. Swim fast. You have put in the work, done everything right to get to this point. You fight through the doubt, the wild speculation over whether this thing even works and embrace the taper for what it is—an opportunity to swim out of your mind!
ABOUT OLIVIER POIRIER-LEROY
It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, and anecdotes and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.
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