If you are training for a big race, you know the importance of tapering to help you peak on your big day. While there are some general rules, such as decreasing your volume and maintaining your intensity, much of the success of a good race is due to adequate training in the months before the event and specificity (or game-play) including using your race gear, fueling and pacing. Of course, by reducing life and training stress as race week approaches via a proper taper you’ll be in a better position to give your best.
Here, tips on tapering like a pro:
DECREASING TRAINING VOLUME
Cycling requires endurance training. It is very hard to execute any sort of taper if you have not put in a lot of training time. Building a strong aerobic engine helps you become more efficient on the bike and raises most, if not all, qualities of fitness. I think it is also important to think of your training time as practice time, the more time you are pedaling, working on skills and riding in your goal race environment, the more comfortable you will be on race day.
While most busy masters-aged cyclists cannot dedicate huge hours all the time, there is usually room for weekend and long-weekend blocks with 1–4 big rides and perhaps even a vacation week where you can add extra time on the bike to get more familiar with your goal discipline (bike, terrain, gear, fueling, etc.) and reap the benefits of more fitness. Having adequate volume and fitness allows you to then to relax and recover to maximize your form in the week or two ahead of your race.
GAME-PLAY THE RACE ENVIRONMENT
As your race approaches you should do more specific workouts. This tenet of training means a gravel racer doing 100–200 miles is going to need some big rides and some longer intervals. This same racer would generally need less traditional anaerobic work than you might think a ‘peak’ should have. Not that you can’t or shouldn’t have this high intensity in your training, even for endurance athletes, just that it is less specific than it would be if you were racing a relatively short-distance race as in cyclocross or criterium. Whatever your race distance, ensure you are practicing in your race environment frequently, especially in the final few months before the goal race.
Aside from physiology, the benefit of using your race bike, gear, fueling, pace, etc., is often overlooked when talking about specific workouts and peaking. While seemingly obvious, many riders arrive at race day with very little time spent in their race gear, minimal pacing practice, untested nutrition plans and nerves around riding quickly through technical sections. Building your confidence and comfort with the race environment should be the primary focus during the final weeks of your preparation where you can alleviate the fatigue and stress from your life and focus on your goal.
THE WORKING PERSON’S PEAK
If it’s possible, try to travel to the race destination early to get away from work and to acclimate to the environment. This helps reduce the fatigue from work, family obligations and other commitments that might take away focus or energy from the goal race. There can be a lot of recovery and performance gains made by simply living like an elite athlete for a day or two before the event.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Taken together, your ideal race day peak is the culmination of accumulating practice time in your goal discipline while developing sufficient enough fitness that you are able to reduce your volume in the weeks prior to the event, leaving you fresh and motivated on race day.