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  • Oct

    Five Tips for Tapering

    by Jarrod Shoemaker, 2008 Olympic Triathlete

    Tapering, or peaking for performance, is one of the most important aspects of an athlete’s training regardless of what timed sport you compete in: swimming, running, cycling or all three: triathlon. If you have been training for a race for months you do not want the last week leading into the race to ruin your race. That hard part about tapering is that every athlete reacts differently to drops in volume, quality or an increase in rest.

    When I was running in college I averaged 75 miles a week, but had friends running 110 miles a week. For my taper I would drop down to 35-40 miles a week, meanwhile my friends would barely drop down only to 70-80 miles a week. If they had dropped half their mileage or more they would not have performed as well. This leads me to a key point about tapering, you train every week and assuming you are hitting all your workouts, why change things too much?

    I had a high school cross country coach who told me “Anything you do 10 days out from a race can only hurt you.” If you are looking to have a breakthrough performance on race day, just do exactly what you are supposed to do in training. Just because you feel better does not mean you should try to set a mile PR in practice, save it for race day!

    Drop in Volume

    Every taper will include a drop in volume. The question is how much? This is something to experiment with as every athlete responds to drops in volume of training differently. One way to look at it is that you are removing the fluff workouts, where the goal is to get time in the legs or arms, and focusing on the workouts that are at race pace.

    Stay Fast

    Another big mistake athletes make is they try to just go slow leading into a race. The goal working into a race should not be to store up energy, it should be to make your race pace feel easy. Athletes should be hitting their workouts at race pace and potentially doing some quick faster than race pace efforts with extra rest. Athletes also should not be adding in more fast workouts than they would normally do in a week.

    Eat Right

    Often overlooked during a taper is eating. Athletes should make sure they are eating enough high-quality food leading into a race. Your body is going to help you perform at the race, so it is important to fuel it correctly with nutritious meals. Speak with a nutritionist or do some research online for suggestions about healthy meals.

    Sleep Well

    One added bonus to taper time is that without all the extra training there should be a bit more time for sleep. Despite what people think, you cannot sleep too much and if you have been missing sleep in the weeks prior you can catch up on sleep and your body will thank you.

    Rely on Feel

    Finally, rely on feel. When I am getting into the pool during taper weeks I usually stop going on intervals. Instead of knowing what my times are exactly I rely on feel: what does pushing hard feel like? What does all out feel like? Those sensations are very important during a race. This philosophy allows me to hone in on how my body is moving instead of worrying about time. Ultimately this is a great philosophy for triathlon because most of the race is dictated by outside factors. And it’s useful to know your body in this way for other sports, as well.

    Tapering is something that takes time to learn, but learning how you taper best is very important. Work with your coach to develop the right program over time, or if you train on your own or with friends, try a few things until your taper develops into a routine just like regular training. The goal is to race fast on race day, not in training sessions, or in the week leading up to a race. Leave your best performance on the course, not the practice field.

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