Thursday, September 27, 2012

Tapering, though sometimes difficult, is essential for optimal performance

Yes, it's taper time again. The most beloved, hated week of training. One fellow blogger calls it the "taper worm." Others simply consider it a necessary evil of the process. 

During the long, hard weeks of training, I yearn for taper week. But once it's here, it's usually not all that I imagined. It's still busy--you're still working out, just less intensely. Then there's the added stress of needing to rest enough, eat enough, relax enough to hopefully be enough on race day. 

There is the anxiety over preparedness, though there is nothing to be done about it by this point. There is the ridiculous fear of losing fitness during taper week. There is agitation as you pace around like a caged tired, ready to bite anyone's head off, as all of the pent-up energy roils and percolates beneath the surface--which is the point. 

There's logistics and planning and hoping your goggles won't get kicked off your head and your tire won't get a flat. 

There's a lot that goes on, inside and out, during taper week. 

What follows is from my interactive fitness column, responding to a reader's question about tapering . . . 

Tapering, though sometimes difficult, is essential for optimal performance

Q: Do you find taper weeks a little difficult . . . emotionally speaking? 

A: Sometimes. It depends on the type of race I’m training for.

Tapering for a sprint race is a sprint in itself, the taper period being so short that I hardly notice it.

On the other hand, endurance races, such as when I was training for the Ironman last year, leave me exhausted and counting the days until taper time.  

So, it’s tapering for the middle distance races—half marathons, and Olympic and half Ironman triathlons—that tend to leave me feeling a bit out of sorts.

Tapering, a key factor in preventing training-induced fatigue from affecting your race-day performance, is the reduction in the amount and intensity of exercise in the days and weeks leading up to a race. Generally, longer endurance events require longer taper periods of up to four weeks, while shorter races may only require a week or less.

For most athletes, a well-executed tapering plan is essential for optimal race day performance. The key is finding the proper balance between rest and continued training. According to, “the best training and form in the world can all be wasted with an ineffective taper period.” 

Studies suggest that tapering, which allows you to fully recover from previous workouts and be completely rested for your race, can increase and athlete’s strength, power, motivation, autoimmune function, oxygen uptake and glycogen levels. A proper taper should leave you feeling strong and rested, taking pride in all you’ve accomplished during the grueling weeks of training, and excited that you are within days of reaching your ultimate goal.

But, that’s not to suggest that tapering is always easy. The sudden reduction in workouts can leave some athletes feeling depressed, sluggish, unmotivated and anxious about a perceived loss of fitness. These feelings are quite common as your body slows down to rest and recharge, and should pass as race day approaches. It’s important to remember that there are no workouts you can do at this stage that will enhance your readiness for the race.


Tapering affects each individual differently, so it’s important to listen to your body and figure out what works best for you. notes that the taper period can be an ideal time to concentrate on technique and strategy, using the extra downtime to sharpen your skills and enhance your body awareness. Nutritional considerations are a factor as well, as the reduction in mileage during tapering means that fewer calories are required. Focus on consuming healthy and nutritious items, particularly carbohydrates, in the days leading up to the race. To keep glycogen levels stocked, eat frequent, small meals, and drink plenty of water. 

In general, you should use the taper period to relax and get lots of rest. Continue stretching and consider getting a massage several days before your race. Read motivational books or magazine articles and reduce stress by practicing relaxation and visualization techniques. Most importantly, don’t try anything new in the week prior to or on race day.

If you’ve executed a well thought-out tapering period, the rest will pay off and, according to, you will be “so bored with sitting around that you are bursting at the seams to get out there,” which is exactly what you want. 


Thursday, September 20, 2012

The "Eezy" way to zap a cold

I always worry that I’m going to peak too early in my training. Two weeks ago I had a great 10 mile run. I ran at a decent clip and felt energized afterward. Last weekend, I had one of my best brick workouts, running my fastest pace ever over five miles.

But in the four days since that brick workout, I’ve slipped into a state of fatigue and lethargy, my arches and hips aching. To top it off, I woke up today with a mild headache, a sore throat and a generally feeling of weakness in my arms and legs.

In what is supposed to be my last training push before tapering, I’ve already skipped or altered two workouts: swapping Tuesday’s 40-minute run for a 30-minute aqua jog and, after a weary 2100 yard swim this morning, I skipped my 55-minute afternoon run altogether and took a nap instead. Last week, I also opted for a nap instead of a run.

What gives?

I can only hope that by honoring my body and listening to what it is telling me, I am giving it what it needs to rest, heal and conserve energy, and will be ready to rock come race day.

First thing this morning, I started popping zinc lozenges, a homeopathic remedy my husband and I discovered last year and we both swear by. I upped my fluid intake, ate soup for lunch and, after a nap, kept my scheduled acupuncture appointment—which did little for my cold, per say, but, like magic, zapped the soreness in my hip flexors.

As a bonus, I walked away with a bottle of Chinese Herbs called Monor Bupleurum, which is used to treat many ailments, including colds, by boosting the immune system.

By dinner time, I was already feeling better and managed to serve my family fresh acorn squash, zucchini and tomatoes along with the fish sticks I’d chosen as a last resort, having little energy to prepare anything else.
Now, to top it all off with a good night’s rest and hope for the best in the morning.

So, if you’re looking to quickly zap an oncoming cold, check out one of my tried and true remedies:

 Cold-EEZE Oral Spray

The debate continues as to whether or not zinc lozenges does anything to help the common cold. A February 2011 Reuters Health article stated that “medical evidence shows zinc may take the edge off the common cold. But not a whole lot.”  How’s that for wishy-washy?
However, the article adds that “researchers found that people who started taking zinc-loaded lozenges or syrups within 24 hours of showing symptoms -- a sore throat, say, or runny nose -- shortened their cold by one day. The bottom line: After seven days of treatment, those taking the supplements had less than half the chance of still being sick.”

According to, “recent clinical research has shown that administration of zinc lozenges can cut the time of suffering from a cold in half.”

And who doesn’t want to do that? Sign me up!

The claims that that Zinc works as a lozenge (and not as a supplement) because it must be present at the site of infection—in the throat and nasal passages—reducing the number of infected cells and making it easier for your immune system to clear the cold infection more quickly.  (Note: citric acid can reduce the effectiveness of zinc lozenges.)

Whenever I feel a cold coming on, I start popping the Cold-Eeze and, so far, have had good results. They are homeopathic and come in a wide variety of regular and sugar-free flavors. Though Wild Cherry and Honey Lemon seem to be the most readily available in my local stores, I once lucked into the Chocolate Mint—definitely my favorite.

Chocolate Mint flavor Cold-EEZE is an easy to take zinc lozenge cold remedy that can shorten colds.
Despite this research, the Mayo Clinic poo-poos the effectiveness of zinc, including it on its list of cold remedies that don’t work, citing flawed studies, while at the same time, admitting that “in studies with positive results, zinc seemed most effective taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms.”
So what does the Mayo Clinic recommend? The usual suspects—water and other non-dehydrating fluids, gargling salt water, saline nasal drops and chicken soup.

Be well!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Where the magic happens

With an enthusiastic sweep of the black Sharpie in my mind, I checked off my 10th workout in six days--an 8.5-mile run that felt . . . amazing!

Long runs, for me, are a thing of dread. Especially running them alone. I know that to all the marathoners out there, 60 minutes is nothing--a blink of an eye, a blip in time, a mere warm up. For me, anything over an hour is l-o-n-g.

Today I was scheduled to run 80 l-o-n-g minutes. As the dread set in the day before, I even toyed with the idea of showing up to a 10K trail run instead, before thinking better of running on trails for the first time since spring just four weeks shy of a race. (duh.)

So, I slept in, ate breakfast, caffeinated, and prepped my fuel belt (always in use for anything beyond 60 minutes, especially in warm/humid weather), loading it up with two 8-oz bottle of water and two 8-oz bottles of coconut water, each to be consumed over 20 minutes, and a Hammer Gel for the mid-point. I believe the combination of all the above helped me to find a little magic today.

  Hammer Gel 12 Pack: Choose from a variety of gel flavors

It was humid--76%--and cloudy, with temps in the low 80s. The first half of the run was a net uphill; I didn't push too hard. Around the 3-mile mark, a general weariness began to set in--no big surprise given that my weekly foundation runs tend to be 36-50 minutes. However, the fatigue quickly dissipated as I pushed through mile 4, sucked down the gel and began to enjoy the net downhill for the second half of the run.

Being ahead of schedule mile-wise, I added an extra loop which, to my surprise, had a huge hill--the type of descent that makes the quads weak as the legs windmill frantically to keep up with the pull of gravity. Of course, after bottoming out, I was faced with a wall of asphalt to climb out of the pit. It was a struggle and I was definitely out of my comfort zone but, when I reached the top, something amazing happened--the magic kicked in! The extreme change in terrain actually seemed to recharged my muscles and I experienced a burst of energy.

With two more miles to go, my pace, which had been slow, steady, and pushing a slight negative split, thanks, in part, to the return grade, continued to drop. When I hit 80 minutes, I kept running. 81 minutes and still running. I felt like I could have kept going for several more miles. Finally, almost regretfully, at 82 minutes, I slowed my pace to a walk and began my cool down.

Once home, I guzzled Recoverite while I stretched, still enjoying the novelty of a happy, tingly, energized feeling (aka "runner's high") instead of the beat down, exhausted feeling running sometimes leaves me with.

It certainly wasn't my fastest run, or the farthest, but it was definitely one of the best. And I'll gladly take a little magic whenever and however it happens.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Skipping toward the Skipjack

I blinked, and suddenly found myself in the middle of peak training for my next race.


How did that happen? 

As the kids headed back to school this week and we all adjusted to the new schedule, the days, the workouts, the lack of sleep, the stress of all the changes, took their toll.

Logging this week's workouts, I discovered that, by the time I check off tomorrow's 9-mile run, I will have completed 10 workouts in 6 days. No wonder I'm tired! Not to mention behind the eight-ball on calories (read Here). One more tough week to go as we climb the training peak toward the Skipjack, a 75.2 mile race that makes up part of the ChesapeakeMan Endurance Festival

To that end, today's 44-mile ride was our longest yet this season. As we geared up for the ride, my skin already slick with sweat, I gave in to the elements, closing the windows in our house against the oppressive heat and humidity. I'm not a big fan of AC and don't enjoy feeling "refrigerated" in the summer, but it was the right move today, no doubt about it!

Despite the 92 degree temps and the humidity topping 50%, there was a stiff and steady headwind from the west, dragging my average pace down 5 mph from where it was two weeks ago on the same stretch of road (on a day that was, in contrast, cloudy, cool and calm).

After 16 miles of direct headwind, we turned north and enjoyed some great rolling hills, with descent speeds hitting 40 mph. We juggled phone calls from our kids trying to schedule play dates, rationed our water (realizing that we were probably a full bottle short for a ride of today's duration and conditions) and spied Santa Claus along the way--a jolly bald man with a big belly and a fluffy white mustache and beard that spanned his collarbone and hung in a cloud down to his chest.

At 30 miles in, the climbing began in earnest, pushing up and over four ridges before finally peaking at the point from which we would enjoy a net downhill for the remainder of the ride.

Though I'd miscalculated fluids, thankfully one bottle was more substantial than water--a nutritional solution containing sodium, calories and sugar--the things my body craved to keep me moving forward. When I sampled the solution at home, I'd recoiled from the saltiness of it. By the time I was tapping into that bottle en route, I barely noticed the salt, my body so desperately craving it.

And so we pedal on, into the next week and our final peak stretch before we crest the training hill and begin our descent to the Skipjack that awaits . . .