5/12/15

Taper do's and don'ts



"This is so hard!"
"I don't feel like myself!"
"I don't know if I can survive this!"
For many athletes, the taper period before a race can feel harder than any interval workout. You've reached a point in your season when you put in countless hours of training, more miles than you would ever consider driving at one time and have accomplished so many workouts that you termed "impossible" when you started and now, the only thing between you and putting all that training to good use is a week or two of a drop in training volume, less total workouts and more rest. 

Yes, now you can clearly see why athletes dread taper. 

Your "normal" routine changes.......
And we all know that most athletes do not do well with change.  

Some athletes feel they may lose fitness during taper whereas other athletes feel "off". It's important to understand that every athlete handles their taper differently - and depending on the athlete and race distance/intensity, there are many different types of tapers. 

For me personally, I don't mind tapering at all. I love the drop in volume and more downtime in my life. I totally trust the process of tapering and know it works to go into a race fresh, rested, sharp and hungry to race. Overtime, I have learned the best taper for me and my body to ensure that I don't feel flat too close to the race but recovered and rested from many periodized months of training. 

To help you out before your next race, here are a few of my taper do's and don'ts.

TAPER DO and DON'TS

Do not rest too much. A drastic drop in mileage and intensity can leave you feeling sluggish and mentally "off". A proper taper helps you recharge. It is not a period of complete rest from removing multiple days of training from your plan (especially on race week).

Do lower the volume (ex. for a half or full Ironman, 2 weeks out from race day) and accept that at first, your body will experience a drastic change in the demands of the body. It's much better to feel a bit flat 2 weeks out from race day than on race week. Nearing 6-7 days out from race day, add a little intensity to your routine (with double to triple recovery time in between short intervals) to wake-up the body and to help you feel sharp. Remember that you are using your taper to fully (for the first time in a long time) fully absorb and recover from all your previous training so you need to find the right balance between rest and just enough time working out to keep your feel for your sport. 

Do not get obsessed with your weight during your taper. Do not weigh yourself, talk about race weight or bash your body.

Do thank your body for getting you to your start line healthy and injury free. Remember, that same body that you may call names because it doesn't look/weigh what you feel is "ideal", is the same body that is going to get you to your finish line.

Do not worry about your diet during taper.

Do eat healthy. Consider the foods that will best prepare your body for your race. Foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and electrolytes will not only help to energize your body but will also keep your immune system healthy and well. The closer you get to race day, the more you will need to focus on the energy-giving foods that will digest the easiest (low residue/fiber). No need to carbo-load your body for two weeks but instead, maintain a healthy relationship with food so that you honor your biological hunger but also do not overindulge just because you are racing. To avoid feeling "heavy" from a slight increase in carbohydrates, make your morning meal your carb-rich meal and then add an extra snack during your day like fruit, raisins or a handful of granola.

Do not do fear based workouts. 

Do trust your current fitness. Feeling undertrained is 100% better than being overtrained. Most athletes who feel underprepared are many times, very prepared. There is no good you can do by squeezing in one or two more key workouts just to prove you can do a certain distance or pace before your race. You will race with your current level of fitness on race day (regardless of what work you didn't/did do) and that is the day when you can prove to yourself that you can do the distance at the pace that you trained yourself to do.

Do not give your best performance in training, when no one is watching.

Do save your best performance for race day. Avoid "testing" your speed during your taper, joining group workouts (that have nothing to do with your taper) or abiding by haphazard training just because you are feeling good. Bottle up that energy and use it when you get a medal at the finish line. 

Do not change your daily routine too much. 

Do get a bit more sleep, practice your mental skills and lower your volume but remember, your body likes a routine. If you feel lost with your life because your taper plan includes a day off on Friday and you never miss a Friday workout, fill in the gap with something that is productive and makes you feel good but will not affect your taper. Go to the gym and instead of your normal Friday interval run, sleep in and then casually walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes and listen to a podcast. If you no longer workout twice a day and instead only work out once, take an evening (or morning) walk with your dog or neighbor or enjoy your extra free time and do nothing. Rather than doing your normal long run, drive to a new location for your shorter run and enjoy the new scenery. Instead of your weekly masters swim, invite a friend/training partner to join you for your taper swim and then enjoy a cup of coffee/tea after your workout and enjoy your "free" time. 
It's important that you follow your taper plan that will likely have a drop in workout volume and frequency but you can still feel like you have a routine. 

Do not change what has worked in training. 

Do trust what has worked in training. With months of training behind you, you have had many opportunities to dial in your pre and during sport nutrition, gear, race outfit bike set-up (ex. race wheels, helmet, hydration system), run gear (fuel belt, shoes, etc.), practice pacing and build confidence. Avoid energy suckers on social media or forums that persuade you to change what you know works well for you, your body and race goals. On your last weekend of working out, immediately after the workout(s), write down what gear you plan to use on race day and also include nutrition before and during the race. If you never tried the nutrition strategy you plan to use on race day, never rode your race wheels in a long training ride (especially in similar race day conditions), never worn your fuel belt with your race kit on or....you get the idea.....rethink why all of a sudden you are changing what you know works well in training. The fastest athletes on race day are those who are confident in their well-practiced nutrition and pacing plans and feel comfortable in their race day gear and equipment. Karel answers a lot of questions about race wheels and he says that the fastest race wheels are the wheels that that you can ride the fastest in a straight line on your race day terrain/conditions. 
(You've never seen me ride in a disc or deep dish wheel on race day because I've tried in training and Karel knows it would take a lot of extra energy for me to race and control my bike in hilly or windy terrain with that type of wheel set.)

Do not become a different person during your taper. Do not voluntarily become a carpenter and start a house project, make a life change, put extra work projects on your plate or overwhelm yourself with to do's.

Do wrap yourself in bubble wrap, lock yourself inside your house and do not step close to anyone who is breathing. Only kidding - well, kinda. With all your extra time, it's very easy to take on responsibilities around the house or work that could cause injury or sickness. Or you may be seeking ways to fill in your free time and find yourself becoming extra social, in settings that your body is not use to. Be smart with your available time and seriously, just be ok with doing nothing. Your race is coming and you will have many hours to do something with your body in a week or two.

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The most important thing to remember is that your taper is the culmination of many months of training. It is a very special time in your training plan when you get to intentionally rest your body. For months, you likely only had an intentional rest day (or active recovery day) once a week. That's only 4 days a month or 24 days of rest in a 6 month time frame!!
Whereas your training helped you gain fitness, your taper will allow you to best use that fitness on race day.
Above all, a taper is only as good as your trust in your previous training. Athletes who nail their taper have a great ability to stay focused, confident and determined to succeed. No matter how you feel your training went or how good/bad you feel during taper, never ever stop believing in yourself.

You are capable of so much more than what you think you can achieve. 
Get excited for your upcoming race so you can prove to yourself that you now a stronger, faster, healthier, smarter and better athlete than when you started training for your event.