This is the first article in my series on tapering. This article addresses the overall goals of the taper. Following articles will get into the nitty gritty of the taper.
If you nail your taper (and plan and execute your race perfectly) you’ll be in a position to transcend anything you’ve done in training. But to pull off one of these magic days, you need to arrive at the start: (1) fresh; (2) sharp; and (3) fit. When you combine these three elements you’ll be an uncaged beast when the starting canon fires!
Fresh (Not Fatigued)
You want your legs to be completely free of fatigue and you want any lingering micro traumas / minor niggles to be cleared up. Cutting training load and making recovery a #1 priority will freshen you up.
Sharp (Not Flat)
When you’re sharp your muscles should feel bursting with energy and ready to fire. On the hand, if you’re flat, there is a feeling that your legs “just aren’t working,” even though you’re not tired. We stay sharp by inserting short reps at race pace and above and even shorter reps (:30 to 1:00) at threshold or slightly above into our rides (or doing strides after our runs). These short reps aren’t about “getting a workout” (in fact you should stop well short of fatigue), they’re supposed to be a “tease” that gets the muscles ready to fire on race day. If you are both fresh & sharp you’ll be the uncaged beast!
We also want to hold on to as much of our hard earned fitness as possible while we shed fatigue. Once you recover from your final big workouts, you’ll want to mix in maintenance training to keep you fit and strong. Avoid the temptation to push yourself! You want to do just enough to stimulate your body to hold onto it’s fitness. You’ll usually want to feel just as fresh the day after a maintenance workout (or slightly fresher). Of course, balancing this goal (fitness) with goal #1 (freshness) is basically what the art of the taper is all about. It has been said that your performance can be predicted as your fitness minus fatigue (you can even use cool charts in Trainingpeaks to try to quantify and predict this balance). So when we taper we aim to find the ideal balance of training and recovery to keep our fitness high while shedding our fatigue (and staying sharp).
How? That’s the topic of our next blog post…