After two weekends of enduro racing and a tough week last week that included lots of hard digging on the dirt, I am rolling into a much needed rest week with Trans-Sylvania sitting just two weeks down the road. That means it is what I like to call “tick season.”
Tick season is a well-known, but little talked about, phenomenon that endurance racers must endure (which is particularly hard on the psyches that dwell inside some of the more sinewy vessels out there). It goes something like this. You spend weeks building strength, honing your skills, tuning up and racing your brains out for your big event. Along the way, if all goes well, you shed a little fat, gain a little muscle and hit “fighting weight,” as they say. Then comes the taper.
During this time of regeneration and storage, you suck down spaghetti, slice your riding volume in half (or more) and allow your muscles and energy systems to recover and repair, as you stock energy into storage. One day during this glorious process of renewal, you look in the mirror and spout a few unprintable expletives at the bloated, swollen image staring back.
Having been through a few of these tick seasons, I can attest they’re never pleasant. I remember standing in my hotel room in Louisville two days before Ironman, leg grippers sausaging my thighs, thinking, “Really? All those months of training and I feel like a water balloon.” But here’s the beauty. Like a water balloon, those few extra pounds (and they actually can add up to a couple extra pounds) are pure potential energy.
Your body is stashing the carbohydrates and water that you need to be able to turn the throttle wide freakin’ open on race day (or race week, as the case may be for stage races). So it’s important to resist the urge to cut back on calories or worse, jump on your bike for four hours to get skinny for the big event. (Realize, of course, that resisting this urge is made all the harder by the fact that tapering also leaves you feeling a bit mentally fragile to begin with.)
So, that in mind, I’m trying to embrace tick season best I can by resting, recovering, and eating well. Though the volume is down, Coach Eatough has kept those short bursts of intensity in my rides leading up to the big week, to keep me sharp (and sane) and remind me of what all that stored energy can do.