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Tapering for an event

I am often asked about tapering for a big event.  I don’t usually taper because I don’t do many “A” events that I peak for.  I usually do events that are within my standard training zones so I can push it hard for one day, take a rest day then get back to normal.  I can usually do a half marathon or an international distance triathlon on a day’s notice.  Anything longer will require training and a training plan.  Some people can run a mile on a day’s notice  and need a plan for a longer distance.  Other people can run 50 miles on a day’s notice.  It is up to you how you should train and what you need to train for.

Let me start out by saying “Tapering is hard!”.  There is a reason that I don’t usually taper, it is easy to mess things up while tapering.  You can probably do a Google search any distance event taper training and find at least 5 different ways to taper for the event.  It is not a bad idea to read a few different articles then plan your taper from there.  I will explain my taper and reasons here.  When you ask yourself these questions, you should give yourself honest answers.  Sometimes, we give ourselves politically correct answers but that is not really the goal.

A.      You will need to ask yourself what are your goals?  My goals for a half ironman are listed below:
1.       Cross the finish line healthy in less than 7 hours.  I said I did not care about the time but I had a massage scheduled for 7 hours after the start.
2.       Set a personal record (PR) on the bike.
3.       Show up to the start line healthy.
4.       Run the whole course.
5.       Look good on the run.
6.       Finish in less than 6:30.
7.       Ideal would be to finish in less than 6 hours but not likely.

B.      Look at your schedule
1.       Events are supposed to be fun.
2.       Live your life.
3.       Will it make you happy to skip a day out sailing to save 1 minute on a marathon?
4.       Will a day out sailing one week before the marathon be the difference between finishing and a DNF?

C.      What type of racer are you?
1.       Speed
2.       Endurance

Comments for A – Do you notice how I have finish healthy is number 1 but starting healthy is number 3?  I must have told myself that exercising for 7 hours will heal any injuries that I start with.  In my case, I was recovering from a run injury so I trained more for the bike than the run.  Looking back on this list, after I finished the event, I can say that my number one goal was to finish any way possible.  But that was not my goal when started tapering.  I tapered to list.  I did not bother add swimming to the list because I knew that I could and would do a sub 40 minute swim.  It should have been on the list.

Comments for B – I had a 5 day weekend the week before the event.  I could have been taking it easy to help me arrive at the race in peak condition but I did not.  I was out riding my bike all over Northern California during the long weekend.  I decided that riding my bike around the week before my “A” race would cause me to not meet goal number 2.  To me, having fun for a few extra days was worth risking goal number 2.

Comments for C – My goal is to complete races so I can go into a race pretty well rested.  People who plan on speed are rested when they do slower workouts for similar durations as peak training.

Now that we have examined ourselves and understand our goals and schedules, we can think about tapering.  Typical taper time is 1-3 weeks.  For a really big race like a marathon or half iron man triathlon, I like to taper for two weeks.  I could taper for 3 weeks and handle it physically but I don’t think I could take it mentally.  It is really hard to slow down after you have trained for 4-12 months preparing for an event.  I cycle my training in 3 week cycles where I build for 2 weeks, back off for a week the repeat.  Because of this, I average my workout time for the last 3 weeks before taper then cut back on the average going into the event.  For example:

For an average of 10 hours training per week, I would train
8 hours per week 3 weeks before the event
6 hours per week 2 weeks before the event
4 hours per week 1  week before the event

It is not a good idea to work on speed or strength during the taper phase.  The reason for tapering it to arrive at the start line healthy and ready to race.

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