Reconsidering the Taper

I’ve been thinking a lot about the tapering process. It makes good sense to not run hard or long in the week before a race, and to eat well and rest up for the event, but the result of that for me is that I feel fat and lazy, and anxious and crabby. I have to force myself to stay off my feet. I enjoy the preparation for the race more than the race itself – the long-term build of mileage and intensity and the increased energy and fitness are exciting and rewarding in and of themselves. I wouldn’t run as hard or as long without a race goal on my horizon, but the race itself is not the fun part. The complications of getting to a specific spot at a specific time in Chicago traffic or on transit, the crowds of runners, the rattly paper number pinned to my chest, the chip laced into my shoe – these things I don’t need. But I do feel better having trained for this race, and I ran better and (a little) smarter than I did before, and I’m already looking forward to choosing a spring race to commit to.

A physical taper on the oboe doesn’t make as much sense to me. I can see playing a little less the day or two before a recital or audition to ensure that my embouchure muscles ore well rested – but I generally don’t think that the muscles of the oboist’s face require that much of a rest. Occasionally after a really hard concert my lips will feel swollen and unresponsive for a day or so – but that is very rare. Generally, when I pick up the oboe I feel okay no matter how much I’ve played – better, in fact, if I’ve been putting in a lot of regular hours.

Emotionally, however, I do seem to pull back from the oboe in the week before a big event. I am not proud of this – it doesn’t make any intellectual sense. I absolutely should practice hard and keep polishing the pieces I’m working on, but I don’t want to. I have a long history of easing off before auditions and recitals. Sometimes I have to bribe myself into a session by reading new music. Currently, although I am giving a full recital next Sunday, I find myself preferring to work on excerpts for an audition at the end of November. I don’t want to play my Vivaldi.

Maybe this kind of taper does keep the music mentally and emotionally fresh. Maybe my brain knows when I have worked hard enough and distracts me as best it can. I would be worried if a student was approaching a recital this way, but I actually am comfortable enough with my own preparation style to look upon it as normal. Annoying, but normal.

The oboe taper almost feels involuntary, whereas I resist my running taper like crazy and nearly always sneak in an extra mile or two over my planned easy workouts. The difference may be that while I enjoy practicing and playing my instrument alone in my room I absolutely thrive on performance. I suspect that if I were a better runner I would orient to the culminating races more, and embrace the taper as an opportunity to sharpen up for the big event, but as it is it feels like an interruption in my basic fitness plan. I move joyously from project to project on the oboe, but I just keep running.

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