Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Science of Tapering...

I chose to write about tapering this week.  By definition according to Siri taper means "diminish gradually".  Nearly every endurance athlete looks forward to hearing the word taper because they know that means they will gradually diminish the workouts they have done in hopes of arriving at race day ready for a peak performance.  There is a plethora of information in books and on the web regarding how to taper effectively.  The following is what I think about tapering which you may or may not agree with.  Feel free to add your own taper advice. 

I have always believed that tapering effectively is very individual.  What I mean by that is that the most effective taper is not a "one size fits all" approach.  There are so many factors that determine how to taper effectively leaving the gas tank full and the engine ready to roll on race day.  One question I get asked often is how long an athlete should taper for.  This is also very individualized.  Some athletes prefer a long taper of 2 weeks to even a month for Ironman events.  Some athletes prefer to taper for a much shorter period of time such as 5-7 days.  I have learned through the years of racing my body responds better to a shorter but much more aggressive taper.  By this I mean about the longest period of time I taper is 10 days but in that 10 days I may cut my volume by 70-80% over a typical 10 day training block. 

Another factor that is important to tapering is how much work the athlete has put in leading up to the taper.  Athletes that work out 2-3 days a week will not have much to taper off.  Do you cut from 2 days a week down to 1?  I wouldn't think so.  The bigger the base of training leading into the taper the more benefit the taper will have because the body will feel much more rested than it typically does.  I have always been a believer that it is important when tapering to leave the quality workouts in the taper.  I feel if the high intensity workouts are removed from the plan then it leads the athletes to feeling "flat" on race day.  All of a sudden the tapered athlete is trying to race faster than the body has gone since the taper began.  For me, I have always found too little working out to be much better than too much working out when it comes to how much the workouts should be cut back. 

Another important thing to remember is that within a season it is not very practical to taper for every race. If you are constantly resting and then racing there is not a lot of work to draw on come race day.  I back off 1 day for events I don't care to be rested at, 2-3 days for events I want to do well in without sacrificing future races, 6 days for events that I would call "B" races where I want to get a good result but not at a big price in the big picture of the season, and then there are "A" races where you will sacrifice poor performance in the week or 2 following because you have backed off so much for that 1 big day.  I typically have 2 "A" races in a year but my race schedule goes from April to October or November most years.  Next week I will be racing in the Pigman Longcourse event which is a 1/2 Ironman distance race.  On Wednesday night after feeling extremely tired I decided I wanted to go after this race with an "A" race 10 day taper.  I decided this because I've put in a huge block of cycling over the past 6 weeks and my swimming is as good as it's been this year right now.  I also don't have another important race for 10 weeks following this one so I have plenty of time to rebuild the engine back up.  The last reason is because this race is my only 1/2 Ironman distance race of the year and that is my favorite distance to race. 

I decided to use all the data I've collected since I began this triathlon journey in November of 2008.  I made a spreadsheet listing about 7-8 races I've tapered for since that time and I listed what I did each day from 10 days out up to race day.  I then totaled my 10 day volume for each race and also my last 5 days of volume.  I went through each race where I ran or biked particularly well and noted that.  What I found was that every race I listed on the spreadsheet with the exception of Racine 70.3 last year went well.  I did not include Madison from 2012 or Arizona from 2013 because my entire training leading up to them was poor.  I will add those later just to see where the last 10 days lays in comparison with the others but the bottom line for those was I just did not do enough work in the 6 weeks leading to them. 

What I found from my experiment was that every time I had great bike splits my 10 day volume was between 75 and 100 miles for the bike and 25-35 miles for the run.  I couldn't believe how low that total was because a good 10 day stretch of training for me would normally be 350 bike miles and 70 run miles.  My good races had SUPER low 5 day totals some times including only 1 bike ride of 20 miles.  In the Chicago Triathlon (2009) I only ran 12.5 miles and biked 15 miles in the last 5 days leading up to the race.  I averaged 26.1 mph on the bike for 25 miles in the race and ran 35:20 for the 10k on a HOT day which was a great race for me.  My good bike split at Cedar Point last year came on similar 5 day bike volume (20 miles).  Of the sample of races I looked at the one with the highest 10 day AND 5 day volumes was Racine last year when things went terrible.  It was good to see how cutting back less possibly played a role in not being ready to race well.  I took the information I had and put laid out 10 days of workouts leading up to Pigman Longcourse next weekend.  It has me excited about racing my best of the year.  Through this 10 day stretch I will bike 105 miles, run 31 miles, and swim 16,800 yards.  I actually don't know what how to most effectively taper for the swim because I've never swam well.  I suspect that I swim better when I actually increase my yards close to a race because I don't swim nearly as much as I bike or run.  I have found I get a better feel for the water when I get in the water more often and that leads to faster swims for me.  I cut back the yards of each swim and reduce the volume of the hard sets but I swim more frequently than I do pre-taper.  My 5 day volume heading into Pigman next weekend will be 5,500 yards swimming, 20 miles biking, and 14 miles running.  I will take Friday completely off from working out.  I don't take many days completely off.  My last one was mid-June.  I find if I take the day off before a race it takes awhile for my legs to wake up because they aren't used to taking that day of complete rest and blood hasn't been moving through them as it normally does.  If I take a day off in race week it has always been 2 days before the race.  I will no doubt be rested next week.  The big variable in this taper is that I don't have much to taper from in the run aspect.  It's mainly a huge bike taper.  I've only been running for 2 weeks and I'll enter race day with less than 90 miles of running since my 6 week layoff with my sore back.  I have seen good progress with my running this week.  I ran 8x400 with 1 minute rest after each on Wednesday and it went well.  Friday I ran a 4 mile tempo run in 23:10 and negative split each mile with the last one at 5:31.  I ran 10 miles today and it was the longest run I've done in almost 2 months.  My body handled it without any difficulty.  I'm relying on having enough residual run fitness from the years of high volume and hoping the number of 5+ hour bike rides I've done this year will be enough to get me from T2 to the finish line.  I'm very confident in the workload I put in on the bike while my back was hurt so I need to ride well.  I'm also confident that I've gained strength from attending classes at Barre563 over the past 5 weeks.  I think that work will begin to pay off next weekend. 

The race on Saturday will be the most competitive one I've done this year.  My goal is to finish top-5 which is in the paychecks and would be a bonus for iHope.  There are 15 elite men signed up right now and that number could increase this week.  Top 3 would be the ultimate goal.  If the weather is good and the winds aren't crazy I'd like to swim 29:00, bike 2 hrs. 15 minutes, and run 1 hr. 20 minutes.  Adding in transition times that would put me somewhere around 4 hours 7 minutes.  Last year the weather was bad and it slowed everyone down.  I'm looking forward to it.  I have noticed the effects of the taper beginning when I rode bike intervals last night and hit power numbers I haven't hit in quite some time.  It should really begin to take effect when I get inside the last 5 days.  Thanks for reading.  DREAM BIG!!

1 comment:

charles lange said...

it is really surprising when you go back in time and look at all the training from years back to now to form a taper or a better training plan thanks for sharing!