Monday, August 15, 2011

Time to Taper


It's exactly two weeks until Ironman Canada and that means it's time to taper.

For a long time, I resisted the taper. Like a lot of triathletes, I misunderstood its purpose. I thought it was about "taking it easy" and of course I was just too much of a badass to lounge around doing nothing, right? But what I've come to realize is that tapering isn't about taking it easy per se, but about changing your focus.

Now, even before this revelation, I understood the need to taper for important races. After all, since fitness gains take about two weeks to be incorporated, there really isn't anything you can do in the two weeks before a race to improve fitness for that race. You can improve fitness for future races, but not that one. On the other hand, you can do things to screw up your race. You can get injured or have a freak accident or arrive at the race exhausted and run down because you worked (or partied) too hard leading up to it.

So for the big races I would taper. But I still thought of it as taking it easy and I don't think I tapered as well as I could have. Because real tapering is a lot of work!

The thing is, all fitness gains happen at rest. This is why we take rest days during training. But leading up to the big races, the need to work out wars with the need to recover. The athletes who make the most progress are the ones who only recover exactly enough (but not too much) and who can recover quickly so they can get more work in. That takes planning and focus; it doesn't just happen.

So the need not to screw up your race and the need to recover properly so you consolidate your fitness gains are the motivation behind the taper. The taper isn't about goofing off. It's about maximizing recovery while maintaining fitness.

The best way to do this is to change the focus of your workouts. Instead of doing all the long, steady distance (aka LSD) that takes a long time to recover from, you concentrate on shorter efforts with higher intensity. The idea is to get your body used to going at race pace while simultaneously lowering your recovery requirements. Then, with the extra time you have you can sleep more, eat better, drink all your fluids, take all your supplements, accumulate all your supplies and, in the case of a long distance race, get organized for the trip.

So that's what I'm going to do.

This week I am going to do two short, but fast bike rides and then take my bike over to Front of the Pack to be shipped to Canada. I'm going to cut out all the long runs, but run more often. My swim schedule is all messed up so I never got in the 3 mile swim I wanted to do before the event. (Too late now!) I think I will end up swimming once or twice this week and probably both will be tempo swims. I'm going to miss Podium for the 2nd week in a row due to another meeting so no speed work this week. For strength, I'm supposed to be starting a new program this week, but I'm not sure how much of it I should do given that I'm tapering. I'll do my regular Tuesday workout and then figure it out from there.

On the recovery front, I'm going to get eight hours of sleep every night. But I also want to start going to bed earlier and getting up earlier so that the 4:15 am wake up call on race morning isn't such a shock to the system. It's a lot easier to get eight hours of sleep every night if you can sleep as late as you want in the morning. So this one is going to take a lot of discipline on my part.

Plus I'm going to drink a protein shake every day instead of pretending I will but skipping it most days. I'm going to drink 80-100 oz. of fluid a day as well. These are all things I pledge to do all the time and manage to do some of the time, but are no longer the daily habits they were when I was going into an office every day.

On the organizational front, I need to update my Ironman packing lists (I never did that after IMAZ but at least I did keep my notes) and buy some supplies and figure out exactly when my planes leave. Luckily there's a shopping party tonight at Sports Basement so I can load up on nutrition and get some new goggles that won't fog up. I've already ordered some new speed laces (the ones I have now are too short for my new running shoes) and some race number cords for my Spibelt (since I lost mine at Vineman).

Off to make my protein shake that I swore I'd have every day but it's already after noon and I still haven't made it. See, I told you tapering was hard work!
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