When gaining fitness for endurance sports we also gain fatigue, both mentally and physically. Training sessions progress in difficulty and the number of hours spent exercising per week grows as we build towards our event. The accumulation of this training stress promotes positive adaptations within our body; making us fitter. But, this is often when we feel at our most tired as we have been consistently over-reaching ourselves.
How to Taper?
A well-executed taper allows for the shedding of fatigue and for the freshness to return. Don’t fear, the taper period is not long enough for you to lose the fitness that you have worked so hard to gain. A standard taper lasts 7-14 days depending on a number of factors, such as your typical training hours per week, your experience of previous tapers and performances, the goal race distance/duration and perhaps even your physiology (fast twitch dominant/more anaerobic athletes need something slightly different to slow twitch dominant/aerobic athletes). During this period it is crucial to keep to something similar to your regular training schedule but the intensity and volume are both dialled back significantly. We don’t want the mind and body to switch off but we need to allow for more rest and recovery than usual.
So for instance, a 2 week taper for a long distance event may include a reduction of training time by 50% in week 1 and a further 50% in the race week (i.e. 16hrs typical training is reduced to 8hrs and then to 4hrs). The sessions can continue to be split between the 3 disciplines in a similar manner to normal (for example 50% of time on the bike, 25% run and 25% swim) and some intensity can be included. Typically short blocks of race pace is included for specificity but short controlled efforts, such as strides when running are also a good idea.
It's also during this time that you should prepare for the race logistically; spend the additional free time you have planning your nutrition strategy, preparing your kit, checking your bike over, develop your race strategy and goals etc… But above all try not to fill your time with additional stress; remember just because you’re not training doesn’t mean you’re resting! If you have a list of DIY jobs and chores do your very best to avoid them until after the race.
As I alluded to at the start, the additional free time that an athlete has in the taper period can be problematic. It is imperative to trust the process and the coach. It’s all too easy to self-sabotage by cramming in some additional exercise as neuroses such as “I’m losing fitness” take hold. Do not test yourself during this final period and don’t look to gain fitness, the aim is to gain freshness and save all of your mental and physical energy for race day. If you wake up on race morning ‘chomping at the bit’, eager to show the world what you can do, then you’ve come through the taper well. Then it’s time to execute your plan, with fitness and freshness of mind and body.
Race well guys!