9/28/16

Embrace your taper



"I don't feel like myself!"
"I feel so off!"
"I feel so lazy"
"Why do I suddenly feel sick/injured?"

For many athletes, the taper period before a race brings a lot of feelings. Some good and some well, not so welcomed.

You'd think that for any athlete who has endured months of hard training, he/she would look forward to a physical decrease in the training load. Yes, that is often looked forward to but it's actually the feelings, that come along with this drop in volume, that leave an athlete feeling uncomfortable in so many ways.

Think about this....
You've reached a point in your season when you put in countless hours of training and you have covered more miles in a week than you feel comfortable driving in a car (who wants to sit in a car for 100+ miles???)  and you have accomplished one too many "impossible to finish" workouts.

Here you are and the only thing between you and putting all that training to good use is ~2 weeks of a drop in training volume to finally let your body recover and heal. 

What's not to love about taper?
Taper means it's almost go time! 


Oh, that's right....
Your "normal" routine changes and that another reason why taper is so terribly uncomfortable. 

It's important to understand that every athlete handles their taper differently - and depending on the athlete, the race distance/goals, previous training and racing intensity, there are many different types of tapers. 

To help embrace and properly execute taper 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, especially on race week. A drastic drop in mileage and intensity can leave you feeling sluggish, stiff and all-around "off". We prefer to have our athletes "recover" from their last peak week of training for 3-4 days as a "taper" and then sharpen the body for race day with ~1.5 weeks of workouts that help wake-up the body for race day. This helps reduce the chance of the sluggish feeling that many athletes experience by resting too much all the way until race day.

Do lower your training volume relative to your peak training. A proper taper helps you recharge and sharpen but if you are putting out too much volume (especially due to "fear based training" or validation, race-ready efforts) you will go into your race feeling exhausted.

Do not race your workouts. Save your best performance for race day. 

Do not worry about your weight. You are not getting ready for a fitness pageant where you are being judged for what you look like. You are being rewarded by what your body can do and you can do a lot with a well-fueled, nourished, strong and resilient body. 

Do not focus on your body composition during your taper. Do not weigh yourself, talk about race weight, compare yourself to other athletes or bash your body.

Do thank your body for getting you to your start line - regardless of your current level of fitness. Be proud of what you were able to overcome before race day and bring a high level of gratefulness to race day.

Do focus on a healthy, well-balanced diet until the 72 hours until race day. Then reduce the fiber/fat to help optimize digestion while minimizing gut residue.

Do not do fear based workouts or any validation-type efforts to "see" if you are race ready. 

Do trust the work that you did to get to where you are right now. Feeling undertrained is 100% better than being overtrained. Most athletes who feel underprepared are many times, very prepared.

Do not give your best effort in training, when no one is watching. Be willing to go there and dig deep on race day.

Do bottle up your building energy and visualize yourself succeeding on race day. When training volume decreases, increase your mental strength skills.

Do not change your daily routine too much. Aside from getting a bit more restful sleep, try to keep your body on a similar schedule.

Do write out an itinerary for yourself in the 24 hours before your race and then continue your planning through your race day. Write out your plans for travel, eating, fueling and any other details that will make for a smooth race day experience in the 24 hours before and on race day.

Do not change what has worked in training. Trust what has worked and don't try anything new on race day.

Do be open to being flexible on race day. Understand the demands of your race (terrain, weather) and recognize what strategies will help you overcome the obstacles that may come your way. Consider working with a sport dietitian and a mental skills coach/sport psychologist to help navigate through these unknown situations so you have a game plan for the "what ifs". 

Do not go into a race being metric driven. Finishing the swim in x-time, holding x-watts or mph on the bike and then running x-min/mile does not mean you will have the best race possible. The fastest athletes (and those who can put together a successful race) on race day are those who slow down the least and can trouble shoot situations while staying proactive throughout the entire race. 

Do not become a non-athlete during taper. Do not voluntarily become a carpenter and start working a house project that you have been putting off, pick up a ball sport (I can't tell you how many athletes I know who have sprained an ankle by "playing" with friends/kids), make a major life change, put extra work projects on your plate or overwhelm yourself with stressful to do's.

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Your taper is the culmination of many months of training. It is a very critical time in your training plan where you intentionally change up your normal training regime.
The workouts during taper are very important.

Athletes who embrace taper (after months of consistent, smart training) are focused, confident and determined to succeed.

No matter how you feel your training during taper, trust that you will be just fine on race day.
Yes, even if you feel absolutely horrible in the 48 hours before your race, you WILL be able to perform well on race day.