Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Tricky Taper

It's that time again...Taper Time! What does that mean, for all you non-racers? It means it's the period of time right before a race where you lay off the intensity a bit and bring your total training hours down just SLIGHTLY (hello, taper does NOT equal sitting on the couch watching your favorite reruns of 80s sitcoms, contrary to what some may believe and/or practice). The purpose is to keep your fitness but allow your body to rest some in preparation of your big race day so that you're fresh and ready to perform when the gun goes off.

So what is the right amount of taper? When should one start tapering? It's a tricky process that is a combination of science and art. When it comes to the BIG "A" race (Vineman, for me), I'll start the taper process about 3-4 weeks beforehand. I'll follow some guidelines and listen to my body, be strict about nutrition, blah blah blah.

But Wildflower is NOT my A race. It's my 'warm-up.' My litmus test. Hence working hard up through last Sunday. This is the week I'm letting my body rest a little. Tapering is always a fight, though. Ask any athlete and they'll tell you it's one of the most difficult things to do correctly. When you've been training for 8-10 hours a week consistently, some weeks pushing hard, how do you just 'back off?' Or how MUCH do you 'back off?'

Fears and rationalizations begin flying across your mind: "If I back off, so will my fitness." "I'll get used to being lazy." "I've just gotta get one more good [enter swim/bike/run here] in." "One more won't hurt."

It all reminds me of being in school again. There were those classes that I actually liked, where I did the reading, did the studying on time, didn't cram, and the night before an exam, I could actually feel relaxed and not attempt to speed-read 4 weeks' worth of material. I could go into a test confident and prepared. Then there were those other classes. The ones where I was ALWAYS cramming, hated the material, and hated the studying. Unfortunately, as a freshman, I learned the hard way that with calculus, even if I hated it (which I actually didn't - I just hated the way it was taught and never understood a damn thing the prof. was saying), I needed to put the time in. By the time the final came around, there I was desperately attempting to understand sequences and series, but it was no use. No point in cramming at that point. It wasn't going to do me any good and any information I DID try to learn was probably going to just mess up the stuff that I had retained.

Triathlon training is like that. If you don't put the time in, there's no use trying to get it all in the week before. The week before is a time to focus on eating well, practicing visualization, preparing your checklist. It's a time to allow your body to relax a little, freshen up and renew. It's an exercise in self-discipline, of not following what everybody else at swim practice/spinning class is doing, but of following your own plan and not trying to outrun the dude in front of you on your nice easy run. It's staying within your head, planning YOUR game and remembering that you've got what you got. Ain't nothin' else gonna help build your speed now!

So, how to taper? It all varies from person to person and different races. I went to yoga this morning and thankfully, since it's a full moon, she felt we should go a bit easier than normal. Perfect timing! I'm still a tad sore but I really needed the stretches. Track workout yesterday was nice 'n easy. I'll do an easy swim tomorrow, and try to keep my heart rate down when I teach spinning on Friday. One of each thing in, nothing crazy, and visualizing myself holding steady on all those climbs at WF.

If all goes well on Sunday, then I'll know I got the tricky taper right...this time.


Cristi said...

Reduce volume, keep intensity. You should get that "race feeling" in training sessions leading up to the big day, at least that is how I taper. Best of luck!

Sarah said...

Thanks Cristi!!!

Interesting you say that...that's what's so frustrating sometimes...I've read both. The 'reduce intensity' thing I read was just by about 10%, so not a lot. But I've heard what you said also.

Well, we'll see. Thanks for the input though - always grateful for more. :)