Tapering is always a stressful time to me. I want to peak for my race, or in this case "races," but there's also that part of my psyche that wants to eke out a little more fitness. Never has this been truer than right now, coming off five months of injury management and heading into the world duathlon championships in sprint and standard distances.
In theory, I did enough cross training between the upcoming moment I toe the line and when I broke my foot in March to still be competitive when I arrive in Penticton to race ... but we both know that's unlikely and there's no point in lying to myself about it. I did cross train, but you can't bake a cake by going fishing; specificity is the name of the game.
As a matter of fact, there's a term for it: the SAID Principle. SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands and essentially means that your body adapts to the stressors it is exposed to and, given enough time, responds with improved performance. This is where concepts like periodization, overreaching, and super compensation are essential to understanding long term athletic success--in other words, improper programming or random training need not apply.
I can't say I wasn't following a program; I was and it was a decent one. I doubled down on cross training, as a matter of fact, and focused on building the much coveted strength attribute that is so often ballyhooed in popular running magazines.
I decided to compete in two powerlifting meets (with a third on the way). I went for a provincial qualifying standard first, followed by a national qualifying standard if I was successful in meeting the minimum weights necessary to do so.
Guess what? I was, and now I find myself competing in powerlifting at the national level this coming February. Wish me luck.
But how does that help my duathlons in three weeks? Great question.
The flippant answer is "it doesn't" but that's not accurate. The strength I gained from powerlifting will definitely help, especially at race pace and trying to maintain good form throughout. There is no downside to strength.
The more serious answer is complex. I built strength training for the meets I competed in, sure, but I also did something that will payoff at the starting line--I maintained my athletic identity.
That's something that usually gets overlooked when an athlete gets injured, but wreaks havoc with the person when competing comes back into the picture. They forget who they were because of the distance between peak performance and new performance due to an injury.
In my case, I might not feel like the world's greatest duathlete right now. But make no mistake: my athletic identity is just fine.
It never cracked during the rehab process.
I never questioned it during setbacks.
I am a world class athlete and have all the evidence I need to support that claim thanks to a healthy relationship with exercise identity.
Cross training opened up doors that are otherwise closed to most injured athletes, especially runners. Powerlifting helped maintain that while simultaneously building my strength.
Was it duathlon training? No, but does that matter? Only insofar as sport specificity influences outcomes.
Yes, it's important to be able to run, ride, and run again as well as manage the transitions between each leg; however, it's also important to be brimming with confidence at the start line from other successes in the absence of immediately applicable ones in your chosen arena.
Physically, my adherence to the SAID Principle might have been less than ideal for peak duathlon performance, but psychologically I feel like I am still the best athlete I can be at this point.
That's as specific an adaptation as one can hope for.