Tapering is a necessary evil. In order to race fast, one must shed the heavy training load and freshen up. I realize this conceptually. In actuality, I detest tapering. Taper. The very word is fraught with so much emotion. It means that a key race is around the corner. Every single workout is carefully dissected into minute detail to determine whether that particular workout has any specific bearing on race day. Workouts are shorter and less intense, which is a bummer when you really enjoy the daily grind. Then you start to question every twinge and ache and wonder if it is catastrophe in the making. If you hear somebody cough 6 blocks away there is the fear of contracting Ebola. No question, tapering for an important event sucks and makes me cranky.
I have been a competitive athlete since the age of 7. That means I have 34 years of tapering behind me. It has not gotten any easier! As a swimmer, taper week meant lots of dives off the starting blocks and tons of sprinting. Since I did not like to do either of those things, tapering was a nightmare. When I was old enough to understand the importance of a taper I did learn a very key piece of information– too much taper meant I would be flat for my races and I would underperform. I was envious of the sprinters getting in the pool for 15 minutes and then spending the rest of the workout in the shower. But, I knew I was always better off maintaining decent yardage while cutting back on the hard intervals, a taper method I adhere to even now.
Tapering as a triathlete almost feels like a crap shoot. How on earth is it possible to get three sports to feel good on the same day? For starters, you cannot taper all three sports the same way. You may need more rest for running than swimming and cycling, for example.
I have been known to do some crazy things during a triathlon taper, such that a friend once dubbed my particular mode of tapering “the JZ taper”. Here’s why. I once did a century ride the day before a sprint (I was second by 3 seconds and my coach never let me live it down). I rode the entire bike course the day before I won the Buffalo Springs triathlon many years ago. I have also been known to pound out a master’s workout a few days before a race. For the bigger races I would not participate in such bad behavior, but you get my gist. I tend to do a little more than the average Joe.
I would never be so cavalier with running though. Running, by its very nature of increased pounding is much harder on the body. This week, as I prepare for the Olympic trials marathon, my run volume and intensity has been chopped dramatically (yet, I am still so damn hungry. What’s up with that?), but I am not sitting around doing nothing. Our interval workout yesterday consisted 4×5 minutes at race pace which is about half the amount of intensity of a usual workout (and also, 5 minutes is a much shorter interval time). In case you were wondering, which you probably weren’t, I did swim master’s yesterday; some habits don’t die.
The bottom line is even during taper week, to include some short, race pace intervals. Do not go out on your regularly scheduled group ride and kill it for two hours as that will most certainly kill your race. If you feel tired or your legs hurt, shorten your workouts, but do not cut it out entirely unless you are sick.
I am never sure how many days out from the race is the ideal day to start feeling good. Is the Sunday before too early? Is two days before too late? I guess, really, it doesn’t matter how you feel before the race as long as you feel good race day! So don’t fret about how your body is reacting to the taper until the gun goes off. If you still feel like crap then, start worrying.