Embrace The Taper
Tapering is the period before a key race where you allow your body to recover a bit while doing your best to maintain fitness. Since I’m tapering now for my first big race of the season, I figured I’d explain a little about what is going on.
Here’s how Joe Friel explained it at TrainingPeaks University a few months ago. We train to build fitness, and at the same time we build fatigue. To race well we need to eliminate fatigue but conserve fitness and hence gain form. (Joe told a story of the origin of the term form, but I can’t seem to remember it right now.)
When you taper you lose some fitness but gain form. Being rested and race ready is called peaking!
There is a simple equation to the taper:
Fitness – Fatigue = Form
In the taper, we lose a little bit of fitness because our training load drops, but fitness is something we lose slowly. Fatigue we can get rid of fairly quickly. However, shedding too much fatigue and you lose both fitness and form. Go into a race too rested and you may feel flat because you have lost too much form. If you aren’t rested enough, you won’t be able to knock out a peak performance.
I’m going to get a bit “technical” here and explain how this is used on the Performance Management Chart in TrainingPeaks (and WKO+). If you are not the data type, just read a little further down and I’ll get into practical aspects.
The PMC tracks both fitness & fatigue through metrics called the Chronic Training Load and Acute Training Load. Chronic Training Load is a rolling average (typically over 42 days) of your average daily Training Stress Score (TSS). It’s essentially a measure of your fitness.
Acute Training Load is a rolling average (typically over 7 days) of your TSS. It’s can be considered a measure of your fatigue. Your “form” can be considered the Training Stress Balance (TSB), which is the CTL – ATL (fitness – fatigue).
Above is the Performance Management Chart from one of my Team NEO athletes and fellow TrainingPeaks Ambassadors, Rodney, who will also be racing in Kansas this weekend. The blue line is CTL “fitness” and the pink line is ATL “fatigue.” The yellow is the TSB “form.”
Over time his fitness has been increasing, and so had his fatigue. We are entering the taper period this week so CTL will drop a little (~10%) but the goal is to get the TSB positive, perhaps around 15 or 20.
Metrics like this are useful because we have a measure of the work we have done and after the race we will be able to see if it worked for him. The goal will be to find his ideal TSB for his A races.
More information on the PMC can be found on the TrainingPeaks website. I will also point out that in order for this chart to have meaning, threshold values for swim, bike, and run need to be accurate and up-to-date.
That’s the end of the technical part, now I’ll get into the more “everyday” taper talk. A taper period will contain less volume but maintain some intensity. In simple terms, while we want to rest, we don’t want our body to forget how to go fast (race pace). Taper weeks typically have an extra day off or two and shorter workouts. Intervals are shortened as well, but they still will maintain intensity.
Due to the extra rest we are getting, sometimes athletes get restless, hence the term “Taper Madness.” Your body is healing so you might feel weird aches, you might get sluggish. This is normal, especially if you are training for longer events.If the taper is done right, those all go away before race day and you’ll feel super fresh. Many athletes don’t like the taper due to the sluggish and restless feeling, but the taper is critical to peak race performance. Embrace the taper!
What do you do if you don’t have to train? Here are some suggestions:
1) Get a massage.
2) Write your race plan. (Here’s a shameless plug for my Triathlon Success Strategies, which will give you everything you need to know about race planning.)
3) Take a nap or sleep in a little extra.
4) Do some household organizing that you’ve been meaning to do.
5) Clean out your email inbox.
6) Hang out with family or friends that you don’t see much when you are training.
Whatever you do, if you aren’t supposed to train, don’t! Julie Dibens is known for her pre-Kona “panic training” tweets. While I’m pretty sure she’s kidding and just following her training plan, it’s not uncommon for age group athletes to “get in one more hard workout” before a race. This is not a good idea. If it’s not on your plan or not given approval from your coach, don’t do it. Get that massage instead.
Happy tapering, and follow Coach Nicole and the Team NEO athletes Khem Suthiwan and Rodney Buike at the Kansas 70.3 this weekend! Other Team NEO athletes racing other places this weekend, Carley at the MetroBrokers Sprint Tri, Craig, Chris, & Carley in the Garden of the Gods 10-miler and Geoff at XTERRA Moab. Go get ‘em, team!