by Thom Phillips
Your “A” race is fast approaching, and you’ve been putting in more hours than you care to remember, but as you approach the big day it’s important to maximise those training adaptations through a well planned and structured taper.
A taper is a period of 10 days to 3 weeks where you reduce the training volume and concentrate on preparing body, mind and equipment for the big day. By the time the taper arrives you should already be visualising the event you’re going to be doing, run through the transitions in your head, how you’re going to lay your equipment out, run through that perfect race.
During the taper period, the volume of training reduces and the recovery between sessions increases, allowing your body to rest. During this time your muscles get rid of any waste products (lactic acid etc) hanging around and super charges your muscle fibres. Catch up on those films, books and friends you didn’t get chance to look at when you were training, enjoy the extra time off. You will also tend to sleep better during a taper, which facilitates faster recovery, and makes you feel much better. Studies have shown that during a taper period, the proportion of slow wave sleep, where the body does most of its repairing is significantly increased. So, start using the lift in your place of work, get the shopping delivered, and focus on relaxation and recovery. There is no benefit in doing extra training now – this is the final preparation period.
Your taper period gives you the opportunity to eat properly and start gathering your equipment for the race – it pays to do this early, a pre-race panic to find a number belt/energy gel/lucky pants, does nothing for your stress levels going into the race and can have a detrimental effect on performance.
In terms of nutrition, keep eating as you would when you are training. Your body still needs calories for growth and repair in this period and what you eat in the last week before the race will go some way to fuelling you around the race.
For an endurance event such as triathlon, a taper of around 14 days seems to be the most effective and yes, current research suggests that this applies to sprint distance and Iron distance triathlons alike. During this time the number of sessions should stay the same, however, the volume of each session should gradually be reduced to half, and the intensity should be maintained. For example, if you swim 3 times per week for an hour, then in your 2 week taper period the 1st swim should be 60min, the second should be 55min and so on, until the final swim (6thswim) should be around a 30min sharpener before the race. Do this with all your sessions, even if it reduces your last few runs down to 15 or 20 minutes. Two days out should be a day off, which gives you an opportunity to finalise any outstanding arrangements. On the day before the race head out for a short, sharp session. My athletes, for example, either head out for a 30min cycle incorporating 6 x 15sec bursts or head out and do 6 x 60metres of running drills and strides. This helps them switch their body and mind to race mode.
Try and follow a similar routine before every race, it will eventually become a trigger that your body recognises as “race day is here”.
More information on the physiological changes that take place during your taper can be found here.