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Tapering - Advice from the Experts

Advice from the experts

Get The Work Done Before Tapering - by Nate Llerandi

That big race of the season, the one your whole season is geared toward, should be an exciting time.  You've put in the hard work and hopefully you're ready to put the hammer down.  However, the final weeks leading into that big event can be some of the most stressful of the year.

This is when the doubts start to creep in.  This is when you start doing things you shouldn't do during a taper.  You start pushing harder to make sure you eek out every bit of speed for the race, or you do that "one last" track workout or long ride "just to be sure" your fitness is OK.  Problem is, in the final weeks those workouts are the ones that can cripple your ultimate performance.

If the work hasn't been done before tapering begins, then it's too late.  If you're still under trained - due to recent sickness, injury, laziness etc, - still, the only way you're going to et your body totally prepared is by tapering and not by working harder.

I suggest a 2-week taper for Olympic distance triathlons and 40k TT's on the bike, or 10k runs.  For marathons, Ironmans and ultra-cycling events, I give my athletes a month-long taper.  Weekly volume tapers off dramatically, and the intensity of the hard workouts stays high through the volute of hard work done also decreases.  During this decrease in overall work the body takes less time to recover from workouts and, thus, is able to top off its energy systems stores - something it can't usually do during hard bouts of traning.

Finally, don't misinterpret the "mid-taper blues", a period of time where you can feel sluggish.  Its very common to the taper process.  Your body has been used to getting hammered and all of a sudden you're being nice to it.  It takes a while fo the the body to adapt and round the corner.  If you encounter the blues, don't panic.  You'll rebound quickly.  When you do, you should be feeling more energetic stronger, faster and confident.

Cutting down on duration, amount of intensity and, possibly, the number of weekly workouts is the way to maximize the taper process.  Doing that last hard/long workout just to be sure your fitness is OK, is not the way to ensure great results.

Tapering - by Nate Llerandi

There is a lot of advice out there on how to rest/taper for your most important events.  Some of it makes sense to me; some it doesn't.  Here is my advice on tapering.  It is simple.

The longer you race, the longer you taper.  The shorter your race, the shorter you taper.

Some coaches state the opposite.  Their premise is that the more intensely you train (i.e., the higher the HR you sustain during your training), the more time you need to recover so you can peak for an event.  False, I say.

Intense training makes you fast.  Yes, added rest will allow you to be more "sharp" and, thus quicker.  But if you rest too much, you'll lose fitness and be flat.  So, for Olympic distance triathlons, for example, I recommend a 2-week taper for your most important race for the year.  A 40k TT on the bike would cal for a similar taper, or a 10k to half marathon run.

For longer events, such as Ironman races, marathons, or ultra events, I have my athletes taper for a month.  Sounds crazy at first, you say?  Not to me.  What's crazy to me is "Triathlete" magazine publishing an article from a well-known coach on 13 weeks to a respectable Ironman, where in this article the coach suggests an athlete complete his/her longest run only 2 weeks before the main event, in excess of 3 hours.  In my mind, this approach will not lead to the best performance an athlete can demonstrate.

Long hours of training, in any discipline, pounds the body.  You may be more sore or tired immediately following a hard interval workout, but the repercussions of a long-distance workout last far beyond the effects of an interval workout.  For example, the rule of thumb for recovering from a hard run is "Avoid hard running for the same number of days as miles you ran in the race".  So, after a 5k, you would wait 3 days before running hard again; for a marathon, it would be close to a month.

Thurs, I have my ultra athletes complete their longest week of training 4 weeks out from their main event.  From there, each week (and each long workout) drops 20-25% until the final 2 weeks are pretty minimal in duration.  To counteract the drop in volume, the athletes complete intervals at a slightly higher rate of exertion than they are used to.

However, this is counterbalanced with a higher work/rest ratio, which leaves the athletes fresher for each repeat, as well as fresher at the end of the workout.

The best thing you can do for yourself in the final weeks leading up to a major competition is to rest and relax.  This doesn't mean "kick back in a chair" but rather significantly cut your volume and slightly increase the intensity of your hard workouts (as they get shorter as well).  If you've put the work in and have been honest with your efforts, you'll hit the starting line ready to turn in your best performance to date.

Nate Llerandi is a former national champion/class swimmer/world class triathlete.  He has been coaching since 1990 and creates programes for athletes of all sports and ability levels.

The Stress of Tapering - by Jim Bruskewitz

The emotions that colour our training and racing are like a double-edged sword.  We're drawn to the feelings of hard work, the completion of a touch workout, and the sweet ease, as well as the sour edge, that our form alternately can take while we move our bodies.  These emotions regularly draw many to exercising over long enough periods of time that training becomes a lifestyle.  The same feelings that draw us to spot also challenge our ability to rationally control what we do and when we do it.  How many times have you fond yourself reaching a bit deeper into the "lolly jar of training" for another emotional training fix, only to find that you've over done it and can't stomach another trip to "the jar" without a much needed break.  Given all the emotional upheaval of how we feel when we training and race, it is no wonder that spots are fraught with so many mistakes.

One emotional adventurer that we all struggle with is the final taper and peak for the big race.  Who doesn't get squirelly, feel out of sorts, and question their level of preparedness in the final week going into a big race?  Unfortunately, these inevitable feelings beg us to make some final mistakes that only take us away from what we've worked and planned for - a great performance.

Maybe just one more workout
When we find ourselves over our heads with these feelings of doubt, let's at least arm ourselves with some common sense of help guide us through the confusion.  First of al, a great performance comes after we've rested and recovered from months of training.  Not only do our muscle cells need to top off he fuel reserves (glycogen stores) but our circulo-respiratory, endocrine, and nervous systems need more time to recover than do the muscle cells.  A gradual reduction in the training load over a couple of weeks, not just days, is needed for the kind of recovery required for a great performance.  If you are worried about losing the fitness that you've worked to hard to gain, remember that it takes four days of complete inactivity before a measurable decrease in fitness has occurred.

We don't lose fitness quickly, and we can't gain it quickly either.  Does it make sense to deliver a large enough training stimulus tog ain a desired adaptation in the final two weeks before a big event?  Let's consider what can and cannot be gained.  The rate at which we significantly gain different kinds of adaptations depends on the adaptation.  For instance, flexibility (resting length of muscle tissue) can be gained in a matter of minutes.  Speed and strength gains take three to six weeks.  Enzymatic adaptations, like improving one's pace at the anaerobic threshold (AT), take six to eight weeks.  One's ability to use more oxygen by increasing the number and size of mitochondria )the sub-cellular site where oxygen is used to deliver energy) and the perfusion of blood vessels in the muscle bed to aid in the delivery of oxygen takes six weeks and longer - on the order of months.  Heck, a stronger heart from endurance training will help one's performance too, but this takes years of extended training.  The point is that even the first adaptations to come from training take at least three weeks of a specific training stimulus before they can be enjoyed.

Do you still want to ride 20k at tempo in the five days before a big event to know that you're ready?  No adaptation will come in that time.  You will get somewhat tired.  You will somewhat deplete your energy stores.  You will have collected some information regarding your race readiness, but at what cost?  You will also have increased the likelihood that you will not reach your potential on race day.  Very short bouts of tempo biking with complete recovery between bouts five days out from the competition could work as long as it doesn't add to the recovery process that is already time consuming.  Stay active and back off on training.  For the last three or four days, a nice gentle warm up wills ready your nerves and not get in the way of a great performance.

The challenge
Expect that you will question your fitness during your taper.  Expect that you will be tempted to try something new just to give you that edge on race day.  Expect that your body will feel weird during the taper.  Expect that you'll get stiff, maybe sore, from doing little.  Expect that it will be physically and emotionally uncomfortable.  Expect that with some light training and a lot of rest in the final days leading up to the race that when the gun goes off, al those anxious feelings will evaporate, leaving you with a body that can deliver the fitness you've developed throughout the season

I have a suggestion that just may help you deal with the pre-race jitters.  Step out of yourself and observe what you are feeling from a distance.  Pretend that you are watching yourself.  Do you look calm and confident, ready for action?  If you do, great - move into that state and nurture it.  If you look nervous and jittery, laugh at your feelings as though you're watching another competitor that is bouncing around like a pinball at registration.  This will all pass when the race starts.  Have fun with it and have a great race.

Jim Bruskewitz
Associate Lecturer - Kinesiology
niversity of Wisconsin - Madison
Age Group World and National Triathlon Champion

This article was published on Wednesday 07 March, 2007.