Mysterious Taper + Mighty Granola

February 15, 2010

Ah, the legendary “taper.”

Taper: (tey-per)
to become longer or thinner at one end.
to grow gradually lean.

The most mysterious, likely un-discussed part of any training calendar. We all talk about the miles we put in, the sweat we pour out, but in the days (or really, two weeks) surrounding a proper taper, sometimes we go quiet.

Ultimately, taper can be a weird time. For those of you new athletes out there setting big goals for this spring/summer, you too will come to know the mysterious ways of taper (if you’re doing your training homework.) Some tapers feel like absolute hell; you feel disconnected from your body, you feel like your performances aren’t up to par, stuck under a raincloud, or worse yet, you get sick. Some tapers are great; you feel strong, you’re hungry, sleeping well, getting excited and storing up energy for the Big Show. And, it can be one million things in between. Just hang on tight and take care of yourself.

Do any of you athletes out there have tricks for taper? Superstitions, traditions, and special routines abound in this phase of training; with all of that free time on your hands (ESPECIALLY if you’re working up to an Ironman, marathon, or ultra-marathon and are spending many many hours training per week) you have time for sleeping in and even enjoying dinner at reasonable hours.
Some athletes take this time to reconnect with friends that think you’ve been crazy or dead while you were putting in the time to train. For some athletes the right thing to do is put on your party hat, celebrate, and relax.
For others, you wanna hole up, sleep, stretch, eat. You’ve worked hard; you’ve hopefully learned a lot about your body and mind under stress and while you might not notice at every moment of the day, this is the MOST IMPORTANT TIME TO LISTEN to what your bod is telling you. Obey its call.

I have my own little system that coincides with my “training persona:”:

I train balls out. I fill in my training calendar relentlessly, sometimes in more detail than my coach wants. I don’t skip miles or workouts. Its not a brag – its just the respect I hold for the process. My training is the first thing on my mind when I wake, and the last thing I write before I go to sleep. I believe in training smarter, not harder. Putting in miles early. Sucking it up.

In accordance with my no-crap training regimen, I am a no-crap foodie. Natural, organic, whole foods, and super-ingredients are my bag baby. Luckily for me, my knowledge as a chef means that I can recreate all most all of the deliciousness that comes to mind (read pizza, macaroni & cheese, s’mores, breakfast pastries….all with actualy NUTRITIONAL value and none of the processed crap. I eat this way because it makes me feel good. Alive. Because I find there is an IMMEDIATE correlation between the fuel that I put into my body, and its ability to perform. Crap in = crap out. Literally.

I am an indulger. I don’t restrict myself from having a glass of wine or a beer after a hard day of training. And, I can’t wait for dessert after dinner. Massages and pedicures are also on the indulgence list. Everything in moderation, and within budget, of course. But again, train hard, race hard, live well.

in the early days of training, and refueling. Sleeping on the job.
So for me, taper is:
a time to SLEEP.
a time to practice plenty of yoga, read books, get massaged, and drink hot chocolate with the excuse that it will be my best fuel later this weekend.
a time to focus, ignite the fire. Listen to “hard core”rap, inspirational electronic, and heavy metal favorites on my iPod or blaring in my kitchen, visualizing the hurt and what I’m going to say to it when it greets me.
a time to eat, and cook, my favorite meals.
a time to plan happy hour/coffee dates with my friends for NEXT week when in addition to having free time, I have a new crazy race story to share. (Also, to make a pedicure appointment for, yes, NEXT week.)

SO, This is the final stretch of taper for this, my first 50k ultra-marathon. I am SO excited to give this discipline a shot! After 6 marathons, a slew of long-course triathlons, a few Ironman races, and plenty of road runs I am making a run for the trails this year and this race, the Hagg Lake 50k, is my debutante ball.

And by that, I mean a long, therapeutic slog through the mud with my husband (we have trained for this one together, piggybacking on my training for the Boston Marathon) as a litmus test for the Pacific Crest Ultramarathon later this summer.

Tuesday morning, we are up and at ‘em. A quick run outside to stretch out the legs after yesterday’s negative split; 9.5 miles in 1:10. I can handle that.  On my brain as I run:

1. Race bag: trail runners, hydration, extra socks, extra running top, extra shoes, extra  hat, arm warmers, SNACKS.
2. What is 31 miles going to feel like?
3. What should I pack to munch on while I’m running?
WHAT AM I GOING TO EAT FOR BREAKFAST
WHAT AM I GOING TO EAT FOR BREAKFAST
WHAT AM I GOING TO EAT FOR BREAKFAST

(This is a good taper – note: HUNGER HUNGER HUNGER!) Dreaming of breakfast is not new, I’m not worried. I love coming home from a run, hopping in a hot shower, and watching the news, or the sunrise, with coffee, and something delicious.

In true taper form, we’re getting our feet up, getting our training miles in, sleeping in as we can. And focusing on nutrition nutrition nutrition.  As you have imagined, we are pretty conscious eaters anyway – our nutrition regimen doesn’t really stray or get crazy during this week. But, I do try to bump up the nutritional value of everything we consume and make it easy and functional to digest during this week – like little squirrels, we store up for the long trail ahead.

A few thoughts on nutrition for training and taper (thoughts on race nutrition will come later this week):

Eat simply: Personally, I feel best if I avoid dairy and animal products in the week before the race. No digestive issues, this food feels like clean fuel to me. BUT, its important to be sure that you’re getting enough protein, carbohydrates, and veggies/fruits. Eating salad alone won’t meet your carb quotient, and eating only PB & J will be a rock in your tummy.

Watch your Watch + Know Your Food: The kinds of carbohydrates you put in make a difference! High-glycemic carbs, or simple sugars (ie energy gels) are to be used for energy RIGHT NOW. Lower-glycemic, or complex carbohydrates are processed more slowly, and will release energy into your body at a slower rate (making them perfect for carrying on a long bike ride, as breakfast etc.)
Once you know the purpose of the carbohydrates you’re eating, you’ll know when to eat them. For me, if I rise early for a run, some water and a bit of dried fruit does me well. Then, I refuel when I get back. This is a system that works for me. For a late morning training session, I try to eat 2 hours before departing to allow my body time to process and settle.
Equally as important, refuel and rehydrate after short workouts during taper! Easier workouts are tough on the body during this week! Taper week is NOT the time to trash your racing confidence with a bonked workout!

Ratio, Ratio: The  3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio is almost universally accepted for optimal nutrient absorbtion (this means that your body can grab on to, and process all that you are putting in and then USING it) Fat is also important! Not a lot, but at least some. Lots of athletes skip on this but fat allows your body to process foods properly, is a great long-haul source of energy, and keeps your little cells supple and happy.
For those of you that have experienced stomach distress on the race course or in a training run, you know what a bad ratio is! This means that for every 3 grams of carbohydrate you are eating, you are consuming 1 gram of protein. I am a perfectionist, and clearly take training seriously. I don’t use protein powders, or supplements which makes counting grams of nutrients a pain in the butt. I don’t count grams of nutrition (though I do frequently log my meals in my TrainingPeaks calendar.) But I do “check off” foods in my mental list to be sure that I have what I need, and I listen to what my body is craving. Since plants are pretty prevalent, I carry nuts and green-food energy bars with me during the day to fill in the gaps that I might have missed at meal times.
This knowledge is still important in the weeks of a taper – gaining weight is not the goal, even though if, in my case, I will find myself with a SERIOUS calorie deficit at the end of the 30 miles. Eat the highest quality foods you can, in quantities that match your training needs plus a LITTLE BIT. (Think, an protein bar as a snack instead of a simple piece of fruit during a taper.)

Rise each day ready to race: this is to say, your training period is all trial and error. From the foods you eat, to the speeds, intensities, and power you play with in workouts. Keep trying different foods and techniques until you find one that works for you. During taper, stick to that regimen and carry it all the way to race day.

Anyway, back to Tuesday morning. I made some excellent new cereal to feed this week of taper; I have been a real cereal/granola junkie in the past. Like, whoa. I’ve tried so many recipes but not all of them feel like “clean fuel.” This is a good exception. This granola is minimally processed, gluten-free, vegan, and low-glycemic, packed with protein and carbohydrates for rebuliding and fueling muscle and so contains none of the extra “filler.” I don’t need to carry any extra crap with me this weekend. The grains and proteins in this recipe are not only easily digested, they are alkaline foods, fight inflamation and are high in nutrients.
Good news for we squirrels.

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