As we discussed in part 1, the goal of the taper is to arrive at your race: (1) fresh– not tired at all; (2) sharp– with legs and muscles that feel powerful and ready to fire; and (3) fit- to hold on to as much of your fitness as possible while you freshen up and unload fatigue. If you simply stop training, you’ll be fresh but you won’t be sharp and you’ll lose fitness. If you push a bit too hard then you’ll hold onto your fitness and sharpness, but you won’t be fresh. I taper in 3 phases: (1) recovery / unloading after big training, (2) maintenance; and (3) final sharpening and freshening.
Taper Phase 1 – Recovery & Unloading After Big Training
The first phase is recovery / unloading after your last big rehearsal workout (approximately 5 days, but the length depends on how long it takes my legs to feel recovered). Our style of training is spend most of the year gently coaxing adaptations out of your body– doing the minimum amount of training to stimulate consistent improvement. However, in the critical last 2-3 blocks of training before your taper, we push you to the very edge of what you can handle then cap it off with a final big rehearsal workout!
At this point you’re on the edge of breaking down and you need some serious rest, so we’ll have you take it quite easy for at least 5 days. You’ll stick to just EASY riding for less than an hour (maybe with some 1-2 min pickups to steady just to see how it feels) and easy jogs (on treadmill or grass preferably) for 15-30 minutes max. Easy means significantly easier / slower than your IM effort. NO TESTING to see how your legs feel running or biking at IM effort until at least day 5. If you haven’t been swimming much, you can focus on your swimming for this period.
How long do you stay in this phase? As long as it takes to return to a “normal” level of freshness (similar to how you feel at the end of most recovery weeks). Your legs should feel strong and your pace and power vs. heart rate should be back to “normal” levels at least. This can take anywhere from 5-8 days (this year it took me 8 days to get back to normal after my last beastly workout!) When you feel strong again after at least 5 days, do a little “test” workout at IM effort to see if your power / speed is back to normal and that your legs don’t feel fatigued. Cut the test short as soon as you feel you aren’t back to normal (pushing through fatigue will only delay getting to phase 2) and take the following day off from that sport. When you pass your test, move onto the next phase of your taper.
Taper Phase 2- Maintenance.
Once you’ve “passed the test” and you’re confident that you’re feeling strong again, do some moderate workouts (60-90 min rides @ IM effort w/ short hard pickups and 45 -60 min runs at IM effort w/ short quick pickups). If you are 2 full weeks or more out from your race at this point you can go up to 2- 2.5 hours on the bike and 75 minutes of run/waking (as I get into my taper I always walk :30 or so after every half mile). Be sure to mix some easy running and biking into your workout to relieve the repetitive strain. At this point I’m also doing a decent amount of swimming, as I usually tend to let my swimming drop off some during my big buildup.
During this phase you should feel incredibly strong since your workouts are so much shorter and easier than what you were doing back in your specifiic prep. I’ll ALWAYS immediately cut my workouts short during this period I feel the workout starting to wear me down. Your fatigue should be gradually decreasing and your legs feeling a little better each day.
Phase 3: Final Freshening and Sharpening.
This phase consists of the final few days days before your race. You’re basically just doing very short workouts with fast pickups to get the muscles ready to fire. Phase 3 is more of a “tease” to the body and should have you feeling like a raging bull ready to be unleashed on race day!
A good taper is an art and you’d be doing yourself a disservice by blindly following a training plan (even the one that I give you!). Through all phases of the taper, the trick is balancing the 3 factors– your need to unload fatigue and your need to stay sharp and maintain your fitness. Keep a close eye on your levels of fatigue (tired legs, pace on the run and in the pool, power on the bike) and sharpness (ready to launch into a gallop on the run or blast up a short hill on the bike). If you are fatigued, keep your workouts shorter and easier. If you feel strong and fresh- focus more on maintaining your fitness and sharpening up.
Tune into your body and finish your training smart. Show up on race day fresh, fit and sharp and unleash the beast!