The Hay is in the Barn + Taper Week Thoughts

Guess what? It’s taper time! That’s right. After a long, hard training block, we have finally reached taper week. As I write this, my husband, Matt, and I are T minus 6 days until the 2023 edition of Chattanooga 70.3.

This will be my third time competing at the race and his second. We love the town and the incredible community support in Chattanooga, so we keep coming back. But we’re definitely hoping the third times a charm where weather is concerned, and we don’t have scorching temperatures, like we have for the past two years…

Last week, a Chattanooga resident shared that it hadn’t been very hot yet this summer, so we should fully expect “race day to be the opening day of hell’s front porch.” Thanks, super helpful…

But, I digress.

Because it’s taper week, we’ve been hearing a particular phrase an awful lot lately: “The hay is in the barn.” It even appeared in the Training Peaks notes from our coaches. 🙂 Then, it came up again while chatting with a fellow triathlete at the pool.

Basically, it means that all of the hard work is complete. You’ve done everything you can do to prepare for the race. The only thing left is to trust your training.

Some people say it to extend friendly reassurance: “You’ve done the work. You’re prepared. You’ve got this!”

Others say it with a more cautionary tone: “There isn’t anything more you can do now, except for pack in a few extra sessions and screw everything up. So chill out.”

“The hay is in the barn” is an idiom, meaning it’s a phrase that has both a figurative and literal meaning. So farmers grow, harvest, and bale hay and then store it in a barn. But it also means “the money is in the bank,” Ă  la you’ve done the work and now it’s time to rest.

This phrase first became popular among football coaches in the 1950s. The earliest recorded reference was by California Bears head coach, Pappy Waldorf (how cool is that name?) in November 1950 as his team wrapped up a light practice ahead of a big game. Then, the phrase was attributed to another football coach, Bill Glassford, in a Morning World-Herald article, to which the reporting journalist quipped, “Mr. Glassford offered no comments as to the quality or quantity of the Cornhusker hay.”

The phrase became popular with runners, especially marathoners, in the late 1990s. Former Olympian and University of Chicago running coach, Jim Spivey, liked to use quotes as a way to motivate his athletes.

He would say, “sit in the chair,” as a way to explain the importance of trusting your coach. He would say, “no deposit, no return,” to explain that good results at the end of a season only came with hard work at the beginning. And you guessed it, he liked to say, “the hay is in the barn,” to remind his athletes that they’d done everything they could do to prepare and it was time to reap the rewards.

It’s taper week. Don’t freak out. 

The weirdest things happen during taper week. In my experience, there are two distinct taper personalities. The first goes completely stir crazy from the reduction in training volume and worries obsessively, binge watches TV, cleans out the closet, annoys their kids, cleans out the garage, annoys their spouse, cleans out the fridge, annoys their dog, ect.

I fall squarely into the second camp whose taper week woes are more physical than mental. Everything feels great, until you start to taper. Then, all of a sudden things start hurting- hamstring, adductor, ankle. For me, these “taper week niggles” are more phantom pains that occur at the site of old injuries.

I have the benefit of being married to a sports medicine doctor, who explained the taper week niggles this way. For so long, you’ve been building up mileage and increasing intensity. The hours and weeks and months of training cause fatigue to accumulate in such a way that the body can’t devote resources to healing, because it’s in survival mode.

Sure, you have an off day here or there, but it’s never enough rest for the body to start the healing process. Now that taper week has arrived, your body is like, “Let’s heal everything!”

So, if you’re like me and feel a bit achy, dull, or sluggish during taper week, don’t freak out. It’s going to be fine.

I’m lucky to have an amazing coach who has learned what my body needs before a big race, so we do a short taper. It’s just enough to maintain conditioning and keep the blood flowing, but there’s a reduction in load, so I will have fresh legs for race day. At least, that’s always the hope!

Since we’re having fun with farm idioms today, here’s a few more for your taper week enjoyment.

Before you head to the race, make sure you pack everything you need and “have all your ducks in a row.” If you’re feeling super confident, thinking you’re going to snag a half marathon PR on the run, “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

Hopefully, the weatherman will be kind, and the forecast for race day won’t be horrific, “if the Lord is willing and the creek don’t rise.”

Those of you doing a 70.3 for the first time might feel “as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs,” but you’re going to be just fine.

See you in Choo!

Me and my husband, Matt, at 2021 Chattanooga 70.3, our first half-Ironman.