By race day you should be so bored with sitting around that you are bursting at the seams to get out there and be with 1500 other people racing!
The final touches to any training program come during the taper. This is the period of your season leading up to a key race when you allow your body to absorb all of the hard work you did during your base building and your speed phases. Doing the right kind of taper is an art unto itself.
A taper is tricky because of what is happening internally when our bodies try to recover. When athletes start to give themselves rest, the system in the body that responds to stress (which is the system that allows you to get up for big workouts) starts to shut down. It is like working on the engine of your car. You cannot have the engine running at the same time that you are giving it an overhaul. You have to shut the engine off.
The same is true for our bodies. You have to shut the "engine" off for it to recover and charge up in the way that it needs to be ready for the big race. And when you do this, you will probably feel like you are out of energy, sluggish, and getting out of shape. THIS IS NORMAL.
Give yourself the luxury of this less-than-stellar feeling. It is just a signal that your body is repairing itself and getting ready for a big effort in a few weeks. We do this naturally each night when we sleep. We get a mini-taper. You sleep and you recover. You are not working out when you are sleeping.
But during the taper, a lot of the recovery is going to happen in the day when you are used to working out. This will require a readjustment of mindset. Allow yourself to feel lousy, out of energy, and sluggish. This is what a taper is for. Resist the temptation to go out and test your fitness just to make sure you are not losing it. As best as you can stick to the planned reduction in volume and overall intensity. This is the toughest part of a taper - the rest.
What to Expect During a Taper
In week one of the taper you will start to feel good. The energy system that raises your energy up for peak workouts will still be working but you will be building up some reserves because of the reduced volume of training. The result is that you will start to feel supercharged.
Then during the second week, all systems start to shut down that are normally active during high training. This is what happens when you start to go into hyper-recovery mode. You will begin to feel absolutely terrible. Your legs will feel heavy, you won¹t feel motivated, and you will feel like you are losing all of your fitness. This is the worst you will feel. But have faith!
In week three of the taper, your energy will start to come back up and you will start to feel the spark come back. Remember that this is still not the time to test yourself. That will come in the race just over a week away.
In week four, all of the rest pays off. If you thought week three felt good, this will blow your socks off. You will hardly be able to contain yourself. This is exactly what you want. You are now ready for your best race.
In a nutshell here are some keys to the perfect taper:
- Allow yourself 4 weeks from your peak volume and intensity weeks of training to taper down to your goal race. Set your training schedule up to hit your peak of volume on your weekly workouts as well as the peak length of your endurance days to fall sometime during the 5th week before your big event. Then draw a straight line down from there that ends at zero training two days before your race.
- Let¹s look at how this would be for your long ride. If your peak volume 5 weeks out is say a weekly mileage of 300 miles and your longest ride is 6 hours, the next 4 weeks would look like this:
- 4 weeks out: volume is about 250 miles, and your longest ride should be about 5.5 hours.
- 3 weeks out: volume is about 200 miles, and your longest ride should be about 5 hours.
- 2 weeks out: volume is about 150 miles, and your longest ride should be about 4.5 hours.
- 1 week out (the seven days that would end two days before your race): volume is about 100 miles, and your longest ride should be about 3.5 hours.
- Increase your rest intervals during speedwork to allow for gradually increasing the intensity of your intervals, even though you are decreasing your overall speedwork volume. Increasing the rest during your intervals will allow you to work the high end of your anaerobic system. If a normal rest is half the time of the interval, up it to 3/4 of the time of your on period. So if you are running fartleks, 4 minutes on and 2 minutes off will become 4 minutes on and 3 minutes off.
- Rest, rest and more rest.
Take naps (if possible), reduce the overall workload in your life (if possible), and avoid the temptation to fill your free time from less training with a million other things. Rest means rest. Try to build up your rest reserves along with the reduction in training. As you get closer to the race, allow yourself more and more sleep and time to just do nothing.