Rest vs. Rust - The Art of the Taper
There is always an eb and flow of breaking down the body and allowing it to build back up. This is done throughout various training cycles but is most important as you get closer to race day. The hard hours of training have been logged, but it still can be hard to find the mental strength to allow the body the reboot it needs.
Tapering is a part of any endurance event both big and small. There is a balance and purpose to the taper, and it should be specific to you. The taper doesn’t mean sitting on the couch for a week eating chocolate, but it also doesn’t mean trying to fit in a hard workout that you might have missed. Every person is different in how fast they recover and what their body needs to be firing on all cylinders.
The true purpose behind the taper is to allow the body to build up, and feel as fresh as possible. Focusing on incorporating extra mobility exercises during the taper can be a great way to fix any problem areas. Take the extra time you have to get in some of the foam rolling and stretching that may have been neglected during the peak training weeks. Sleep is also an essential part of rebuilding the body, that can be forgotten during periods of high-volume training. Getting an extra 30-60 minutes of sleep during this time can help the body repair the muscles and joints more quickly. So instead of that extra workout during the day, sneak in a quick nap or sleep in an extra hour.
While rest is a great start, it is important to incorporate specific workouts leading up your race. These workouts should be focused on giving the body some easy movements that build in some efforts that fire different types of muscle fibers. When thinking about volume the workout should be about 50% of what your normal workout would look like on that day depending on the event you are training for. Incorporating some short efforts (30-60 seconds of fast paced exercise) is a great way to allow the fast twitch muscle fibers to stay activated while minimizing fatigue. Alternating days of the sport you are training for can allow the body to recover while also giving it the stimulus it needs. Adding in some days of cross training can be beneficial to get the supporting muscles involved. Use these workouts to fine tune the body and equipment that you may be using during the race such as shoes, bikes, or wetsuits.
The taper can be both a relaxing and stressful time. Many of us struggle with our own self-doubts if we did enough training. "Will I be able to accomplish my goals?" "Is my body ready for the journey?" This is a normal part of the process. Having time to reflect on all that you have done is a great place to start to calm the nerves. Think about the hard intervals, long hours, and early mornings that have brought you to the weeks leading up to the big race. We often forget to reflect on how much we have done and only think about what we didn’t do or could have done. So, take some time and look at all that you have accomplished before the race has even started. This is also a good time to solidify your race strategy and plans. Coming up with a strategy for pacing, race mantra, weather, and anything that might come up along the way can take the stress out of running around as race day gets closer. Don’t be afraid to talk with training partners, family, and coaches about any of the mental struggles that you may be going through during the taper weeks.
The fine line between doing too much or too little during the weeks leading up to a race is always a learning process. Listen to your body, it is usually good at telling you what it needs.
Embrace the extra rest and don’t be afraid to get excited. The work is done, and it is time to celebrate what you have been working so hard for.