It’s taper time and guess what? That also means it is almost race day! Wahoo! Now is the time to stop training, put your feet up, relax and let the body recover… Wrong! While there is an element of relaxation and, yes of course, we want to let the body recover during our taper, that does not mean we stop training altogether. It is important that we slowly reduce your load and continue to stimulate the body, so your body is both recovered and ready to go when it comes to race day!
So how long do I taper for? Well there is no simple answer unfortunately. It completely depends on the distance of your race and the individual. For example, longer races need a longer taper and high level athletes need a shorter taper compared to a newbie athletes. So for me and Sophie, at Ironman 70.3 distance, it is recommended to have a 1-2 week taper. Ironman distance would be longer, and Olympic and Sprint distance would be shorter. For us, as we are experienced athletes and we train full time, we would opt for a 1 week taper vs a 2 week as our conditioning allows our bodies to recover much quicker.
The key to tapering is to reduce your overall distance and load regressively (high to low) from the start of your taper to race day. However, you should continue to keep some high intensity training in your plan to stimulate your body and remind it of what is to come on race day. This way your body won’t switch off and think you’re in off season. In the weeks before your race you should avoid strength training as strength training takes longer to recover from and you don’t want all your weeks of hard training to be ruined in one session. When it comes to nutrition during your taper, you need to remember that while you’re reducing your load in training you should be eating accordingly. Now is not the time to over eat or under eat. Nutrition is key to recovery, so it is vital that you are getting the right amount of nutrients into the body. Be smart and sensible. You can treat yourself after the race!
What is the point to tapering? Why can’t I just continue with my training as normal? The main answer would be fatigue. You want to get to race day as prepared as possible but also as rested as possible, so you have the energy to put in the best performance. Your taper is all about letting your body absorb the hard training you have put in and recovering from the stress of this. During this process your muscles with heal and your glycogen stores will increase, which is hugely important for triathletes who use glycogen and fat as their main fuel sources during training and more importantly, racing.
I started my taper and bit my girlfriends head off (Sophie knows!)… So why do I feel awful during my taper? Physically and mentally, during the taper period, the body is going through a lot. Physically the body is changing as it recovers from the training and your endorphins (happy chemicals released during exercise) are lower than usual as you have reduced your training. Your immune system is often lower as well during the recovery period as your body is trying to recovery from the training as well as do it day to day job. This is why it is crucial to get your nutrition right and don’t stop training all together to ensure it stays stimulated. Mentally you are probably anxious about your race that is coming up and stressing over small things like parking on race day, what socks to wear, what if I need the toilet in the race, etc. So as you approach your taper, bear all this in mind… don’t bite your girlfriend’s/ boyfriend’s/ wife’s/ husband’s head off and remember they have (most likely) supported you through your training, so now is the time to be mindful of your mood towards them and take yourself off for a walk around the block if you feel like you’re about to explode.
Now here is the exciting part. You’re tapering, so that means it’s almost race time. All the weeks of hard training, have come down to now. This is what you have been working towards and dreaming of. Time to pull on your goggles, helmet, trainers and see what you are made of. Your taper time is the perfect period to make sure you are 100% prepared (not talking about the training now). Make a list, make another list and follow it through. Do you have everything you need for race day? Equipment? Nutrition? Have you read through the race guidelines? Do you know what time you need to be there on the day? These are all great questions to ask yourself 1-2 weeks out from the race, not the day before. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare yourself before the race, so you are not stressed out the day before the race, trying frantically to find somewhere that sells elastic laces. This is also the perfect time to mentally visualise what you want to do on race day. Do you have a race plan? If so, go through it in your head and create the perfect race, then go out their on race day and achieve it!
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