Trust in Your Taper

Plan your taper programme so your body and mind are in tip-top shape to race

by Roy Stevenson

Runner celebrating

Hallie Truswell also likes to retain some high-intensity training in the final two weeks. “While my distances may be decreasing during my taper I definitely keep some intensity in all three disciplines. I call it ‘revving my engine,’” she says.

The key is to find the right balance of higher intensity workouts to sharpen up for the triathlon while making sure you recover within a day or two. These high-intensity workouts should not exceed four minutes, whether they are in the pool, on the track or cycling. All that is needed in between is shorter, slower, recovery sessions of 15-30 minutes – and don’t forget to take a day off every now and then if you feel you need it.

The Mental Boost

Mental preparation and attitude are almost as important as physical training for maximum triathlon performance. Peaking and tapering give you a mental rest from hard workouts.  The fresher you are, the more you can concentrate on race pace judgment, self-motivation, strategy planning and relaxation.

“At some point during my taper there will be one workout that will nearly bring me to my knees with happiness,” says Hallie Trusswell. “I will feel so light and happy and I know that I’m ready to go.

Cut Down, Not Out

Muscle damage is present for two to four weeks after long-distance running training, so a tapering period of two to three weeks to compensate for this damage is about right.

“My taper is three weeks long and my mileage is cut by approximately one third each week,” says Truswell. “The first week of the taper is still fairly big in volume but I really begin to notice the physical changes during the middle of the second week. If it all goes according to plan, in the days leading up to the race, my mind and body are usually on the same page and I feel ready."

When you’re designing your tapering program, the devil’s in the details. Newcomes often ask how much volume they should cut back during a taper. An analysis of over 50 tapering studies has concluded that if you cut your volume by 50 per cent, you’re on the right track.

To accomplish this sort of reduction during your tapering phase, you’ll need to start 3 weeks out by dropping your running, swimming and cycling mileage by a fifth. In the second week of the taper, drop your distance by another fifth, and do the same in the week before the event.

Many seasoned triathletes simply cut out one or two training days from their programme during these tapering weeks, and reduce the length of some of their other runs. “I cut down on workout length more than on workout frequency,” says Tremonte. “My regular in-season swims are about 4,500 metres but during taper I might just do 1800-2200 metres, with some 100s at race pace, and a longer rest”.

Staying Fresh

It is better to reduce training volume in steps than to suddenly reduce the load by a large amount. Chris Tremonte cuts back “some of my double and triple workout days leading up to a big race… but it is more common for me to stay close to the same number of workouts while reducing the duration of many of them. This helps me stay fresh.”

If you're a savvy triathlete, you should complete your final long run and cycle at least three weeks before race day. High mileage trainers should start four weeks out. Truswell does her last 22-mile long run four weeks before race day. Bearing in mind that running nine miles is the point at which muscle damage begins, you’d be well-advised not to run more than eight miles in your final two weeks. The last thing you need is muscles that are still healing when you reach the start line.

You should also taper your weight training in the final two or three weeks before your big triathlon. Reduce the frequency of these workouts for 10 days, and then eliminate them in the final week. Truswell reduces her weight training six weeks before race day, and eliminates it completely, except for core, when her taper starts. “I like the routine of weight training but definitely am ready to give it a rest during the taper,” she says.

Picture credit: Tim Robberts/Getty Images.

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