When triathletes reach the taper period of their training plan, their eyes light up as finally, the days of long and hard workouts are behind them. But ask any triathlete about their plan, most of them will have that deer caught in the headlights look.
Am I resting enough? Or am I doing too much? That is the most common lingering question on taper weeks for most age-groupers. For many weeks of long workouts, coupled with high intensity work, it is truly an unfamiliar ground to break it off, especially when you feel you have peaked.
To keep it in perspective, the primary goal of a taper period is to shed and regain. Sounds ironic? It is to shed fatigue, and regain proper form. Fatigue and form usually doesn’t go along well. When your muscles are fatigued, they are tight and usually do not function in their full range of motion. That is why form suffers when you are in the tail-end of any endurance event.
But shedding fatigue and sharpening form has its strategy. You do not suddenly turn-off a tuned engine for three weeks then expect it to run perfectly on raceday.
Here are the tips for a better Iron-Distance Taper:
1. Reduce length and volume. This is a no-brainer, but the rule of thumb is a 25% training volume reduction in the 1st week of 3-week taper. Fifty percent in the next week, and a 75% reduction in race-week. Again, this is a template. A consistent, solid, fitter triathlete will need lesser training volume reduction as mentioned.
2. Do not catch-up on missed workouts! Any age-grouper will miss training, due to work, family time, or even sickness. Catching up with the hard and long workouts and ultimately lessening your taper period will not improve your fitness anymore. One pro triathlete said it best; “there is not a lot you can do inside three weeks to help your race, but there is a lot you can do to shipwreck it.”
3. Too much Easy/Recovery sessions. Reducing the training load does not mean you will ultimately forget high-intensity sessions. Inadequate high-intensity training in the last 3 weeks ultimately leads to a flat race, wherein you feel you cannot exert the power and intensity you gained in your peak period. Just remember to keep your sessions short and at ironman-specific pace…or just a tad-faster. This will keep your body in vroom-vroom mode until raceday, just making it remember you are one fine-tuned athlete.
4. Maintain the regular training schedule/number of sessions in a week. Again, if you mess up with a schedule that you have been regularly doing the past 16-20 weeks or so, this will again lead you to overdoing the “rest”part of the taper, leading again to a flat race. It is important to keep the routine but with less volume. Mentally, that will benefit you greatly as you stay focused on the plan.
5. Reward your body. The build and peak period has made your body one high-fitness machine. During this time, we bet that there was little time devoted to non-swim bike and run recovery sessions. With time and volume decreased in this taper period, you can accelerate healing your body with flexibility/stretching sessions, foam rolling and sports massage. This sessions will help regain proper form, improving your swim, bike and run economy. A repaired and rebuilt body will have maximum potential for power on raceday. Just a warning though, never do a hard, sports massage too close to the race. It will do more harm than good.
6. Not the time to reward yourself by overeating. The race isn’t over yet. The hard work is done, but this is not the time to celebrate by over-indulging with food..or even drinks (alcohol). Maintain your nutrition/meal plan you executed on your build and peak periods. This is also not the time to experiment on what type of nutrition you will need on race-day.
7. Stay sharp mentally. With more time on your hands, this is the perfect time to review and assess what have gone right and wrong on your iron-distance training. Remind yourself your strengths and implement them on your race strategy. This is also not the time to correct whatever weakness you discovered in your training. Instead, work around your weakness and hopefully hide it on your race plan. Review your travel plans, make your packing and gear checklist. Also, this is very important: review the race maps and information guide. An informed triathlete is always the faster triathlete.