What Is A Race Taper?
A race taper or “peak” is a period of time lasting anywhere from 21 to as little as 3 days before a specific race or event. The taper involves reducing training intensity and/or volume for a period of time before an event to maximize performance on a certain day. Talk to any experience athletes and they will tell your, the taper before an event is both an art and science that varies from athlete to athlete and even year to year as an athlete improves overtime.
Should You Taper Every Race?
Although it would be nice to be in peak shape for each race of the season, tapering for every race can greatly affect your entire year. As discussed in How To Plan Your Triathlon Season triathletes should prioritize races on importance. For example. Joe triathlete may want to focus on half-ironman triathlon as his “A” race, have a few olympics triathlons as “B” races, and lastly a few sprint and 10k races that are considered “C” races. For the B races joe triathlete will have a mini taper of just a few days, whereas for the C races he or she will simply use those as training sessions and not devote anytime for tapering. Organizing races by priority puts a focus on the “A” or key race but also allows athletes to race other events within the year.
Field note: I once coached an athlete didn’t want to do an A race and instead wanted to race basically every weekend for 4 months. In this case, I organized all his races as “B” races allowing him to actual get fitter as the season went on. Although we never had a full blown peak in training performance, he was able to race consistently over the 4 month period.
How Long Should A Race Taper Be?
The duration of a given taper depends entirely on the individual. For me personally I taper 10 days for a half-ironman triathlon, 7 for an olympic triathlon, and only 5 days before a sprint triathlon. As with everything in triathlon, more is not always better and balance is key. Take too much time tapering for an event and you can find yourself feeling lethargic and sluggish on race day. But don’t taper enough for a key race and you may find yourself slowing down towards the end due to fatigue. This being said it’s always better to be untrained than overtrained. Dozens of professional triathletes have credited being injured which forced them to rest as their ticket to a victory.
How Do You Taper Correctly?
There are a few different ways to taper for an event. The most common method is to cut volume as the event approaches (i.e. cut a 90min run down to 45min). The other and my personal favorite is to take 2 days easy allowing your body to rest, then every 3rd day complete a short but intense workout to maintain that top end speed, such as a 40min bike w/ 5min race pace intervals followed by a 20min run w/ 2min race pace intervals. As triathletes gain experience from season to season they learn the best way to peak for an event.