Tale Of The Taper
It’s sometimes the hardest part of a training program to get right, but tapering correctly will make sure you’re at your best come race-day.
What’s the point?
In basic terms, it gives your body a rest prior to an event.
You may have been on a 12-16+ week training program to prepare for your event with maybe 1-2 rest days per week. There will inevitably be certain high-volume weeks in the program where your body doesn’t have enough time to recover between sessions. Cumulatively, this can leave you a little depleted of energy at times…not an ideal state to be in before you even start your event.
Your taper should be designed to give you the time to replenish energy stores and reduce training volume, without losing any of your race sharpness prior to your event.
The length of taper can be very a individual preference and also dependant on the length of event. A half-marathon taper may only last a week, for a marathon; 10 days and an Ironman taper; potentially 2-3 weeks.
What should I do?
The main consideration to make is the reduction in training volume. Typically your overall volume will drop by 20-50% gradually over the taper. Even though your training sessions reduce in length, intensity should be maintained. This is the stage in most programs where you will see your interval efforts remain but the “long-slow” work reduce. Even though you’ll still potentially feel tired after some of the sessions, the muscle damage and therefore recovery times, will be reduced.
The reduction in volume during your taper will also free up some time to maximise the effectiveness of your recovery techniques – sports massage, sleep, foam rollering, stretching. Use that time well, book some massage sessions and spend some time doing all the things you usually “don’t have time for” (there’s no excuse now!).
The sudden reduction in training load can often make you feel a little anxious about “losing fitness”. Athletes commonly complain of pre-race nerves and sluggishness during the taper, but do not fear, you’ll much better come race-day.
What shouldn’t I do?
Firstly, and the biggest mistake we see people make is trying to use your taper to make up any training shortfalls that occurred earlier in the program. At this stage of the program, your fitness gains will be minimal. Think of your taper as “fine-tuning”, if you haven’t got the base there now you aren’t going to significantly improve it now. Keeping your volume too high will just lead to increased and increased risk of injury or being “overcooked” on race day.
Secondly, don’t try anything new! If you haven’t been doing weights or hill sessions in your program so far, don’t throw them in here-and-there just because you have some spare training time. The likelihood is you’ll get to the start line with DOMS already!
Finally, the diet. Participants tend to fall into one of two camps. Camp One; reduce food intake to get down to “race-weight” or Camp Two; eat far too much in an effort to “carb-load”.
So for Camp One athletes, moderate your diet slightly to reflect the decrease in training volume, but don’t worry if the scales show an extra few hundred grams in the days up to your race. You want to build glycogen stores and if you restrict yourself too much, you could end up feeling fatigued or depleted on the start line. Aim to get around 70% of your calories from carbs in the last few days before your event.
As for Camp Two athletes, carb-loading doesn’t translate to eating anything and everything in sight! Piling too much in during the last few days training will only result in gastric stress and potentially a few extra unwanted pit-stops during the race!Categories: All Articles / Training
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