Getting the taper right so you peak on the big day...
Tapering is a tricky one, there are multiple formulas and no matter what you do, there will always be someone who tells you "I did this race, trained all week, got 'bladdered' the night before and I had my best race ever!!".
I've read multiple articles on tapering which outline various strategies and have come to the conclusion that nobody knows the answer. However, here's some stuff we do know:
1. Resting beforehand can (potentially) make you faster on the day as it allows your body to recover from training.
2. There are multiple things which decide how well you race on any day and whilst tapering is part of the plan, there's gonna be an element of luck.
3. The more training you've done, the more organised you are and the better you follow correct pacing, the luckier you tend to get.
Resting makes me faster?
Technically yes, but there's only so much rest you require and resting EVEN MORE won't make you EVEN QUICKER.
Tapering is to allow the body to recover from the hard training you've done and your fitness levels to peak. When I ask people how long they taper for an Ironman, they generally say 2-3 weeks. When I then ask how long would they taper if the race was changed to sprint distance, they generally say 1 week. Here's the thing, tapering allows your body to recover from your previous training. Whether your body takes 2 weeks to recover or 3 days, the distance of the race has nothing to do with it.
Remember that tapering over 2-3 weeks was originally designed for marathon runners who were running 120 miles per week, so by cutting their training in half, they were still running 50-60 miles per week. That's probably more than most people today do in their high volume weeks!
Some general rules:
1. If you don't train much and haven't done much volume, then your taper doesn't need to be aggressive as there's probably not much fatigue to recover from.
2. If you train frequently, with high volume and intensity, then you do have a reason to taper and 'rest up' - but don't overdo it.
3. Tapering can make you feel very heavy and lethargic, so stopping training and simply 'resting' can worsen performance. Ironically, this is worse in people who train to a higher level. Those who don't train as hard, don't feel these negative effects to the same extent.
That's quite a quandry, if i train really hard, i need to rest up and recover beforehand, but if i do, i'll feel lethargic and heavy and could race rubbish!! Here's the plan: From 10 days out (Friday before), follow these simple guidelines: 1. Drop volume by 50% for days 1-6 e.g. If you normally ride 80 miles each Sunday, ride 40 the Sunday before. If you normally run 10 miles Tuesday, then do 5 (don't panic, it's ok to ride 40 miles a week before)
4. Keep the frequency and routine the same, so if you normally swim Tuesday morning at 6am, then swim Tuesday at 6am. Your body is used to this frequence and routine, it has a 'rhythm' and it needs to continue for things to be normal. DON'T do anything so hard that it may leave you feeling tired the following day, it should energise you, not fatigue you!
5. If you take rest days, Monday is good and Thursday is good, coupled with training Tues/Wed and Fri/Sat. 4. On Friday/Saturday, do a small amount of training (15 minutes swim / 30 minutes bike or 20 minutes bike and 5 minutes run). Such a small amount of training isn't enough to take any energy out of the tank.
6. Many elite athletes will train right through to the day of the event. It's pretty common for athletes to still be doing hard swim sets the day beforehand and in some cases, they'll train in the morning if the event is in the afternoon! Tour De France riders will never REST on a 'rest day'. They ride 4 hours at an easy pace to keep their body 'in the routine' and stop themselves 'shutting down'.
7. If you stop training completely, there is a risk that your body will just SHUT DOWN completely. Don't then couple this with CARBO LOADING which makes you bloated and even heavier. Tapering is a balancing act. You need to allow your body to rest, recover and PEAK (remember, it's not just about resting). Just think how you feel when you've not exercised for 5 days or more. DON'T panic and feel as though you need to stop exercising to be at your peak. Most people feel great after 1-2 days of rest and we're talking about 10 days of tapering.
My final word is to stop worrying. Most people over-think the whole process and listen too much to everyone else. Tapering may well make you feel a little lethargic but if you're racing long distance, don't worry, you've plenty of time to swim/ride/run yourself into the event, you don't need to feel 100% in the first hour anyway!
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