The Tenets of TRI Tapering
By Hunter Allen
The sun beats down on you, you make sure you have enough water in your bottle to make it home, and you are all alone with that satisfied feeling only endurance athletes understand. It’s made up of sweat in your eyes, salt crusted shorts, smelly cycling gloves, chain grease, tired soles of your feet and most importantly…..strength at the end of a long workout. It’s the pride, the sense of self-worth, the accomplishment and feeling of superiority that you have come to know, love and search for on every ride. It’s that race fitness that you have fought for and won, right before your event. It’s the knowledge that you are still strong after all those miles on that final BIG ride. You are ready.
But, a question remains in your mind. The easier part (in some ways) is the tough training and daily dedication you put into each workout….multiple times a day. It’s a question that you have asked before and the answer is elusive as that missing bike tool you have been looking for and just can’t seem to find. It’s bothersome because you are used to the training, your body is used to the sweat, the heat and your mind is used to the focus. Now….you are telling me to rest? Really? How long will this last? Why can’t I keep training and sweating and pushing myself? I don’t understand why I can’t go long today. The taper in the final two weeks is a departure from the normal and after all those early mornings at the pool, the lunch time runs, and the long bike rides on the weekend, the abrupt change is quite dis-concerting. Your mind questions the length of rest, you fear that your body will quickly back into its lazy, slob mode and you just want to make sure you do the right thing so that when race day comes you kill it. You need the confidence that the taper, the rest week is timed right. You need to know for certain that you are resting just enough to create freshness, but not so much that you lose your hard won fitness.
A properly executed taper does just that. It allows your body to rest, to recover and achieve the final fitness adaptation that you have been waiting not so patiently for in order to race your best. This is the first tenet that you have to accept and trust: Rest will make you stronger AFTER a hard training block. Once you accept this, you are that much closer to success. The second tenet is: Some shorter and intense workouts will keep your ‘trained’ feeling, so that come race day, you’ll feel light and quick. If you rest too much in the two weeks before and allow that lazy slob to come out, then you’ll feel slower, the legs won’t move so fluidly and you will probably go slower as well. Shorter workouts will give you the reduction in overall training volume that allows your body to recover, while sharpening the blade so to speak. The third and final tenet of tapering is: Your muscles and body will start to become highly energized in the three to four days before your race. Many people mistake this feeling for the nervousness that they feel before an event. The feeling I am writing about though is when the muscles start to feel ‘twitchy’, the mind becomes frustrated with that lack of fatigue in the body and you want to just take off running down the road. This is the feeling you will have when you have tapered and rested properly. Embrace it. Know with 100% confidence that it means you ARE ready.
Using your power meter helps contain your training during a taper and you are going to use it as a governor and set limits on your intensity, so that you don’t use up that precious energy in the two weeks before your “A” event. Similar to when you put a ceiling on your wattage when you do a recovery ride, you are going to keep yourself under control and use your power meter to help you do that. Two weeks before your event is your rest week and by taking the rest week two weeks before, it will allow you to fully realize the additional fitness gains that occur when you rest. Many triathletes will only taper the week before their event and while it might work if you are ‘behind’ in your fitness, you won’t need to ‘cram for the final exam’ and will use the week before to hone that blade to a razor edge. The week before is when you will shorten your workouts, nail some high wattage, shorter efforts and come home every day feeling like you didn’t really even do a workout. During this week, you won’t be your normal tired self after a workout (you better not be!), which will again confirm you are on the right track for the perfect taper. As a triathlete, balance is always an issue between the three sports and I recommend less running, than riding and swimming the week before. This keeps the skeletal load to a minimum, which helps with the recovery/adaptation process along with preserving important muscle glycogen. Below is your two week taper which assumes the race is on a Saturday. If it happens to be on a Sunday, then just add in an additional easy ride day on the Thursday before the race and do your ‘tune-up’ workout on Saturday.
Day 12 –Mon. – Take today completely off. No exercise, except for some light stretching/yoga for 30-45minutes. Eat extra complex carbs today, have a nice steak (and/or be sure to take your iron supplements today if you are a vegetarian and take extra iron till the race.). Schedule a massage with your favorite therapist for Thursday or Friday this week.
Day 11- Tues. – Easy ride today for an hour and half. Keep your wattage below 60% of your functional threshold power (FTP). Eat super clean today, light and easy to digest foods with an emphasis on complex carbs and veggies.
Day 10- Wed. - Easy Swim today, 30-45 minutes of continuous swimming, no drills, no efforts, just flow through the water. Focus on your protein intake today, getting in some extra protein at each meal, preferably high quality red meat if you can.
Day 9- Thur.- Easy Run today, 45-60 minutes maximum. Stay at your endurance pace, be light on your feet and make sure take a yoga class or stretch tonight. Go to bed early tonight and do your best to get extra sleep.
Day 8- Fri. – Take today completely off. No exercise, except for some light/stretching/yoga for 30-40 minutes. Take your spouse, friend out to a nice dinner tonight. Eat some great tasting and fattening foods with plenty of dessert and reward yourself for adhering to a solid rest week. Leave restaurant stuffed.
Day 7- Sat.- Brick today. Plan for a super short transition, matter of fact, make this a dress rehearsal for your race. Get all your gear out just like you want it for the race next weekend. Plan it out perfectly and make a short check list once you have it all set up. Your transition is going to be less than 2 minutes, so when you get back from your ride, make it quick and focus. Today’s ride is a 2 hour bike ride, with wattages below 75% of your FTP. Do a burst (10-15 seconds) of high cadence (over 120rpm) every 5 minutes to keep the legs moving and light. No high wattages, focus on leg speed. When you get back from the ride, make that transition perfect and then head out for a 5-8k run. The first 2k are quick and at your Olympic distance race pace to remind your legs what it feels like to transition off the bike. After that, dial it back and just run at endurance pace. Eat normally today, and make sure you have a recovery shake after your run, whether you feel like you need it or not.
Day 6- Sun.- Swim long today. At least 80% of your race distance. After your warm-up, focus on some 25, 50 and 75 yard drills. Make your rests complete after each, so your heart rate comes down and you are ready to go full out again on the next one. Do at least 15 total, so maybe a combination like (8) 25’s, (4) 50’s, and (3) 75’s. The rest of the swim is just getting in the distance and keeping your pace at a moderate pace. Eat normally today and high quality foods, with plenty of veggies.
Day 5- Mon.- Bike ride of 2.0 hours and doing short, but intense intervals. Do (3) 2 minute efforts all out, pushing yourself at your highest wattage you can (probably around 135-150% of your FTP), with 2 minute rest between each. Ride for 10 minutes at endurance pace (56-75% of FTP) and then do (2) 8 minute time trials. Each of these is done at 100-105% of your FTP, with 4 minutes rest between each. Keep your cadence at 90+ rpm on all intervals today. Stretching is important today along with a eating some extra complex carbs and a nice steak or high quality protein source.
Day 4- Tues. Swim and Run today. For your swim, make sure you swim at least 50% of the race distance, but no more than 65%. Do (5) 100 yard sprints today, with big rests between each. The rest of the swim is practicing your stroke and finish with a fast 50 for a good end to the workout. Your run is focused on doing some pick-ups and (3) 400 yard sprints and (3) 600 yard sprints. Make sure you really recover between each with some walking and then slow running. The run is no longer than 45 minutes total and in the last 10 minutes, pick up your pace to your 10k pace and push a little bit. Stretching is key today and eating some easily digestible light foods. Don’t overeat today!
Day 3- Wed.- Bike- Your Ride is an hour and half today, and a few more little short efforts. After your warm-up, do (10) x 1 minute fast pedaling drills with your cadence at 120rpm and focus on leg speed and not high wattages, with only one minute easy spinning at 80rpm between each. Ride for 20 minutes at endurance pace 56-75% of your FTP. Finish with (1) 20 minute effort at your sweet-spot wattage (88-93% of FTP), keeping your cadence at 90-100rpm, so your leg speed is quick. Stretching and good sleep is important tonight.
Day 2- Thurs. – Your choice today. Do whichever you feel like you need a little bit of to keep you sane. Promise me that you’ll only do it at endurance pace though and go easy today. Eat plenty of complex carbs and a have a recovery shake today as well. Great sleep. Flawless preparation.
Day 1- Friday- Tune-up today with whichever discipline you want. Do an hour to hour and half today. Keep it light, do some bursts or pick-ups and eat good foods that are easy to digest. YOU ARE READY!
Day 0- Saturday- RACE Day- GO FOR IT!!!
This article was reprinted from TRI magazine, on online magazine that Hunter Allen is a contributing author.