What is a race taper?
As many of you know I'm just over 2 weeks away from my "A" race event of the year, the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. As I get closer & closer to race day I have the urge to be the same as everybody else: train longer & harder & more frequently than you ever have before! It never fails, all competitors get these same thoughts in their heads as well. So what should you do? Well, I'll start off by saying what you shouldn't do. As many people ask me about my race preparation, I've come to realize there are often 2 schools of thought about what I should be doing: 1) Relaxing with my feet in the air, catching up on my baseball stats (I'm a geek about that stuff!!), resting until the start gun goes off; 2) hammering away in all 3 disciplines, getting as fit as possible until the day before. Honestly, I know people who have ridden the entire 180km (or close to it) of the Ironman bike leg in the last days leading up to the event. Crazy... but true. Sorry, but both of those are bad ideas.
So what should you be doing? How does one "taper" for your "A" race? Well, that really depends. Better question: what is the purpose of the taper? Answer: preparing the body to be as ready as possible come race day. You accomplish this by allowing the residual fatigue from training to melt away, while doing just enough intensity to keep the body firing on all cylinders & feeling sharp. It's also an opportunity to freshen your head space & mentally prepare for the upcoming battle!
So again, what should you be doing during the taper? Although it varies from person to person & sport to sport, here are a few general rules:
-decrease your training volume by approximately 50%
-workouts should either be hard & short, or very easy
-shut out the surrounding noise: don't take last second advice or change your strategy
-limit your stress levels: this means sleep more, eat well, drink plenty of water, don't start new projects around the house, etc (stress is cumulative!)
People can begin a taper anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks out from a race. It depends on many things such as race distance, fitness levels, age, gender... on and on. But a very important rule to follow: a minimum 10 day taper for an "A" race event! Fitness can't be gained in the last week & a half before, only fatigue!
A lot of people may feel anxious & worried during a taper because they're used to doing a high volume load with a lot of intensity. It's completely normal to feel that way, but being rested trumps trying to add a little more fitness in the last few days! You may have so much residual fatigue for so long that you don't even know it. You actually forget what it feels like to be...fresh. This can lead to amazing performances that you didn't think was possible! Try it out!!