Learn why you need to taper your training to allow for peak performance on race day.
The most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps once famously quoted, “There will be obstacles, there will be doubters, there will be mistakes but with hard work, there are NO LIMITS”.
These very words resonate loud and clear to each of you who are trying to achieve something amazing in your lives. Preparing for the half IRONMAN is no easy task and with months of hard work, countless sacrifices and only 2 weeks left to go for the race, you have never been closer to your dream.
All those late-night track sessions, 5 AM bike rides, and numerous laps are finally paying off and you should be at your fittest in preparation for the race. But, there’s one important aspect that we often overlook or fear doing before race day – Tapering.
It is (and understandably) one of the most difficult aspects to implement because you fear cutting back on training. Let’s read on to understand how tapering can help you have a successful race.
How do you handle your taper so that you are feeling fabulous and raring to go on race day?
Tapering can feel unnatural and you begin to worry about gaining weight or losing fitness. One thing we should understand is that every athlete is different, and a good tapering plan should be tailored to fit your needs. Tapering for a triathlon is not an easy thing to get right but if you do get it right, it makes a big difference in your performance on race day. A sensible taper plan helps as it removes any uncertainty that may exist from your final week. You need to trust and follow your plan, safe in the knowledge that you’re doing the right thing.
So what do you mean by Taper?
Tapering refers to a planned, progressive reduction in your training load to allow for peak performance on race day, which is followed after a period of high-intensity training. As your training intensity decreases, so does the level of fatigue. But when fatigue decreases, and fitness levels are maintained, you achieve peak performance.
What are the benefits of tapering?
Numerous studies indicate that dropping your training volume by about 40-60% brings about positive physiological, psychological and performance adaptations. When you start tapering after several months of consistent training, the body transitions from “fight” mode (training) into “heal” mode (tapering). The cardiovascular and muscular systems which are constantly under stress for greater adaptation begin to unwind and enter a state of deep rest. During this phase, there is a change in the hormonal balance as there is a drop in the hormones released to sustain high levels of physical exertion, and the level of “restorative” hormones increase.
The key to a good taper is to get the balance right between Duration, Volume, and Intensity where you don’t want to do too much or too little.
- Duration – For a big race like the IRONMAN or Half IRONMAN, the standard practice is to set aside 2-weeks or 14 days from race day to taper.
- Volume –
- The first week of taper– Follow your typical training week but reduce your training volume by two-thirds of what you would normally do. Also, complete your sessions at an easy effort level. For example – if you normally swim for an hour, reduce that to 40 mins now.
- The second week of taper (Race week) – Start by making Monday a total rest day. This helps in recovering from the previous week and helps in you going into the final week feeling good. Continue with your regular training between Tuesday and Friday but dropping the volume by 50%. For E.g. if you usually do a 2hour bike ride. Reduce it to a 60min easy ride. The main purpose of race week is to stay loose and to remind your body it is in race mode.
Leaving a few days ahead to the race venue to familiarize yourself with the place, weather conditions and doing a recce of the course is recommended. Travelling can be stressful, so take a day off or strap on your shoes for an easy 20-min run. Nutrition also changes during the taper period – this is critical for optimum race performance. Watch what you eat and adjust your meal intake to adjust to the decreased activity level.
Keep the day before race day for doing brief workouts by including some short intensity within each discipline to check your equipment and to get the engines warmed up. Take the rest of the day off, relax and get to bed early.
Tapering is not only done before a race but also post-race- Taper down(pre-race) and taper up(post-race). It’s important to have a good recovery post-race so complete rest is not good as you would still need to flush out the toxins from your body. Do some active recovery at an easy pace instead of taking complete rest.
- Intensity – The intensity levels should continue as usual except for week 1 where you reduce the duration by two-thirds. For example – if Tuesdays are for intervals, stick to it but do just two-thirds of the usual. In the last week, keep the intensity levels the same with the duration of workouts reducing to half.
A few key pointers to remember during the race week
- Know your course: It’s good to know all the three courses. With the swim course, find out where your sighting landmarks, swim exits, transition flow and you could also do a quick swim (if allowed) to test your wetsuit and see if it’s good to go. In the bike section, check for those tricky areas along the route and finally do an easy race spin around the course a few days before D-Day to know where your aid stations are located and to identify any tough sections.
- Pack-up and be prepared: Keep a checklist of all the items you require on race day and pack up well in advance so you’re not running about looking for equipment and are all stressed about it.
- Do a thorough bike check: Check your bike to make sure everything’s in working order.
- Do not try anything new or buy new gear: Do not attempt at buying new gear or eating something new. Stick with what worked for you during training and go with it and not get carried away by what you hear or read.
- Carry your physical therapy equipment. Travel can be a bit stressful on the body and keeping these tools like a massage ball, foam roller, recovery boots handy can help you recover well and you’re in great shape on race day.
In conclusion, stay calm, level-headed and move smoothly through any last-minute hiccups that you may encounter. All training sessions need to be conservative, careful so you do not have any muscle damage or fatigue. Keep your energy intact, have complete trust in your training and be mentally prepared to ‘go there’ and give your best on race day. Good Luck!