Coaching: Taper Time

Taper! We are so ready for you!

Taper! We are so ready for you!

You did it.  You stepped up and committed to months and months of dedication to 'the plan'.  You went to bed early and slipped out of the house before anyone else was up.  You said no to the Saturday night pub crawl and all of your Sunday's were spoken for.  They thought you may have lost your mind.  But you knew you had actually found it on the trail,  in the sunrises, and at the end of a long steady solo run.  

The training is really the hardest part of the journey.  And you did it. Give yourself a pat on the back for that!!

Months of training are behind you now.  Likely it didn't go exactly as you had planned.  It never does.  You wish you could have done more.  Gone longer.  Missed less of the long ones.  Shoulda woulda coulda.  This is the life of any athlete that toes the line.  You are the book that writers write and the painting that painters paint.  You will never be ready.  But you are as ready as you are ever going to be.  Accept this fact and move on...it's taper time, baby.  Let's get this masterpiece ready for the big show.

A week or three before your event it is time to pull the plug on the training and let the fatigue wash away.  The longer the event and the higher the volume of training (how many hours/week you have spent breaking down the system), the longer the taper period required to recover from it all.  The less experience you have with the distance also increases the importance and potentially the length of the taper. All bodies are different- add your personal rate of recovery and adaptation to the mix and you will find the best formula for you (and it is a moving target;). But regardless- you need a taper in order to reach your full potential come race day.

In case you didn’t read the post on Recovery yet, I will sum it up…

You don't get stronger during the training.

You get stronger during the recovery.

Repeat it again;) 

Rest and recovery are critical components of a training plan that many athletes just can't quite get their brain around.  You can do all of the training you want, but if you don't include optimal levels of rest and recovery you will never reach your potential strength and optimal peak. Training only breaks the body down. In order to rebuild stronger, you need recovery.

Failing to plan in adequate recovery can not only mean failing to reach your goal but also failure to even reach the starting line.  Don't be that guy.  Let your body recover, rest and regenerate and it will build into the machine you are working for.   This is especially important during the taper period.  

Why race on dead, broken down stumps when you can fly on strong, fresh, fast wings?  Here is the low down on Taper guidelines (READ: everyone is different and these are not rules but a frame work that you must learn personalize.  You are an experiment of one...get in the lab).

TAPER TIME.  If this is the highlight or main event of your season aka A goal...Tapering means cutting down on the volume of your training by decreasing the length or the frequency of your runs-while maintaining or even slightly increasing the intensity (same pace, less time).  There should be a decrease in the number and length of your runs in your training plan (total minutes per week goes down).  Maintain the same pace (intensity) and you will notice the effects of tapering.  This tapering time will allow your body to recover from weeks or months of stress and remove the layers of fatigue that have built up over time. Remember: You will not improve your performance by increasing your training during the week before your event!  Instead you will continue to build up fatigue.  Effective tapering is taking the volume (total kms) down to 50% or even 25% of your biggest weekly volume. 

  • Decrease volume of training by 50-75% before an important event. Ee/ 2 week taper, decrease volume by 25-50% and then by another 25% the following week leading up to the event.   Maintain or even increase intensity, but decrease duration and frequency training sessions.

  • Provides body with additional recovery to allow for ‘peaking’ on race day. Removes built-up fatigue from weeks of training…it is carried over, even with adequate rest days built into a program. Body rebuilds stronger adapting to weeks of training. Goal is to maintain fitness while shedding fatigue. The result is increased performance on race day.

  • You will not see any significant training effect on race day from your high volume workouts the 7-10 days before your event. In fact, you will increase fatigue and potentially decrease performance if you train at a high volume the week prior.

  • The longer the event AND the more important, the longer the taper. 

  • Choose 1-3 important A and B races to build up to in your season…taper for these.

  • 1-4weeks. 10K 1 week, ½ marathon 2 weeks, marathon up to 2-4 weeks, ultramarathon 3-6 weeks. The length depends on many variables. Start experimenting and you will learn what taper formula works best for you!

A word on Taper Tantrums…

“She sure has been moody lately…who peed in her cornflakes?…what is UP with her these days?…negative nellie over there… aaaah! Right! She is tapering for her big race!”

If you get the Taper Tantrums, I can promise you that you aren’t alone! Personally I love the taper period but I think that is because I understand the science behind it and appreciate it for what it is. After months of dedicated training it can feel like quite a change when the volume of your workouts drops by up to 50% or even more. Some people perform better with a shorter taper, for psychological reasons alone! They are happier and feel more confident in their bodies ability to rock the start line, when they haven’t cut back as much (even if their body could use a longer or deeper taper) and so they may even perform better because of their positive outlook. Play with the duration and depth of your taper if you are in this boat. But do still get a taper in so that you have the most amazing legs on race day! A few ideas if you are in the tantrum boat:

  • Trust the science. Knowing WHY you are doing something can be very motivating.

  • Fill the time - in place of the missing minutes of training, incorporate recovery sessions - rolling, stretching, yoga, massage, chiro etc. So that you know you are still doing some form of ‘training’.

  • Fill the time - with all of the things you haven’t had time for! Use this 1-3 weeks of shorter workouts to read that book, paint that painting, visit with that friend or give back to your community.

  • Focus on recovery - massage, acupuncture, sauna, easy walking, stretching, clean eating, hydration, sleep, rolling…these are the things that will facilitate adaptation and ensure you are as strong as possible come race day.

  • Train your mind- spend time visualizing 2 things… 1. Your body healing, adapting and growing stronger. 2. You arriving at the start line feeling SO fresh and strong and rocking your race no matter what comes your way!

  • Sleep! The best form of recovery is sleep so swap out those extra training minutes for naps and going to bed earlier or sleeping in later. You need it!