I know that many of you, like me, are in the midst of the final push of big, hard training before your taper for Cedar Point—making those last deposits in the bank before we all go cash in those chips on September 11th. I know these are often the toughest weeks of the year: you are asleep on the job, your house is a mess, you owe phone calls to at least 10 friends, and you wonder how the heck you are going to beat your legs into submitting to yet another 100-mile bike ride, backed up by a 20-mile run the next day . . .
The good news is that if you are feeling this way right about now, you are on track for a great day at the races in a few weeks’ time. Hang in there and make every last training session count, because you are almost there!
Almost to taper time, that is . . . and this is what I wanted to talk about here. I just wanted to share a few suggestions for those last couple weeks before your big race—tips for how to make the most of your taper and be at your best on race day.
Your taper cannot make your race, but it can break it.
Coming from a background in competitive swimming, in which races came down to hundredths of a second and tapering was a very precise science, I have always found it a great relief that we aren’t going to hit or miss our taper for the iron-distance by a day or two. How we perform on race day is much more a direct result of the work we put in before our taper started than anything else—all of those aforementioned “deposits in the bank.”
Note that I said “the work before your taper,” rather than “during” . . . In these couple weeks before the race, you will not gain fitness: it is very unlikely that you will do too little, as long as you keep moving. But you certainly can do “too much” and prevent optimal performance on
race day by trying to cram in last-minute training or, for example, by taking advantage of your “race vacation” time to train more than you would at home.
Stick with your plan: “easy” is easy, and “hard” is hard.
For those of us who love to train, and train hard, it often takes a lot of self-restraint to properly execute a taper plan. My best advice for tackling this challenge is to have a daily plan set well ahead of time and follow it to the letter: no more, no less. Most importantly, make sure that “easy” workouts are truly easy, and that “hard” workouts are hard. You do not want to leave your race on the practice field a week before the real event, or, as may be even more common, three days beforehand when you are out on your bike previewing the course and that guy with the aero helmet, disc wheel, full race kit, and compression sleeves flies past you pushing 300 watts.
We all know “that guy.” I fully understand the temptation to jump on his wheel; however, unless his begins with “GCM” or ends with “Lieto,” I can promise you that he isn’t going to be riding like that on race day—at least, not for long. And you, smart taper guy, will be feeling a lot better than he will at mile 80 because you exercised self-restraint and kept your easy ride easy!
Conversely, your taper should include some short efforts in all three disciplines at various times throughout this period. Don’t be afraid to go as hard as directed then; these efforts are
also important to help you stay sharp for the race. Two weeks of doing everything easy will often land you feeling like a slug on race day, no matter how well rested.
Keep the energy in; store it up.
One of the reasons I go to such lengths to emphasize not over-doing it in training during your taper is that, at some point during this period, your training fatigue will begin to disappear and you will begin to accumulate extra energy–which you are used to spending in training. But your short, taper-training sessions won’t allow you to spend it all. And that is the point of taper: to store up this extra energy so you can spend it on race day.
Because storing up this energy, rather than spending it, requires a breaking of habit for most of us, it may help to plan some restful “activities” to keep you busy. Go see a movie, or even better, watch one at home or in your hotel room so you can have your feet up! And how about all of those phone calls and emails that you didn’t have time or energy to return while you were tired and brain-fried from training? This is a perfect time to catch up with your friends.
Whatever you do, don’t use your extra time to think.
About the race, that is . . . The one thing you want to think about is your nutrition plan and your gear. There is no denying that when it comes to a race of this length, there is a lot to think about in terms of what gear and food you are using/eating, and when. You do want to think about this. But ideally you will have these details organized and the items purchased and lined up by 10 days out from the race. By then, you should know exactly what you need, so there is no reason to have this stress on race week. Get it sorted ahead of time.
Then race week, you can chill out! I personally find it most effective not to think about the race itself at all at this point. In fact, I often like to pretend that I am just on a lovely vacation with friends wherever the race happens to be. The way I see it, we put in so many hours and weeks and months of practicing over and over again what we will do on race day that thinking about it is not going to do anything good. Our bodies know what do to: we have rehearsed over and over the techniques, the miles, and most importantly, facing the pain head-on and embracing it.
So relax, put your feet up, and trust the training.
See you in Cedar Point!