Tapering is the icing on a cake baked from countless hours of race prep and laser-focused training. It’s the time when final preparations are made, fitness is fine-tuned, and fatigue is diminished. It’s also a time when, given an athlete’s proximity to their race, can be fraught with hurdles and roadblocks if and when things don’t go as planned. Even the best training can be derailed if the taper isn’t executed properly. So what can you do to manage these inevitable tapering challenges?
More Fatigue than Expected
Every athlete wants to be as fit as possible going into a race. This means trying to execute the appropriate workouts, at the right time, to prepare the body for the rigors of race day. But for some athletes, the fear that insufficient fitness has been gained causes them to “cram” fitness well into their taper period.
But if you find yourself in a position where you’re close to race day and feeling more fatigue than expected or desired, all is not lost. First and foremost, prioritize rest over all else! Regardless of the tune-ups or shake-outs scheduled, no amount of effort is going to compensate for an over-fatigued body on race day. Instead, work on stretching, foam rolling, and active self-care to try and assist recovery and muscle repair.
As always, you’ll also want to focus on proper sleep, hydration and nutrition to give the body the tools it needs to recover. While skipping planned workouts may seem stressful, know that rest will be what gets you to the start line as healthy and fit as possible.
Schedule Doesn’t Go As Planned
Any athlete knows that even the best-laid plans will change when it comes to balancing life and training. The taper period is no less susceptible to these disruptions, and every athlete will eventually experience an unexpected event that will cause the original taper plan to change. When this happens it’s important to know what to prioritize so that race preparation remains on track.
First, rest days should always take priority. During the taper, the bulk of an athlete’s fitness should have already been gained, so squeezing in final workouts typically only serves to add more fatigue than necessary. Then, depending on how prolonged the disruption is, prioritize any workouts deemed critical or necessary, like sessions scheduled to finalize race day set-up or gear selection—these final touches shouldn’t be skipped.
As you get closer to race day, remember that individualized interval workouts become less important than rest and mental preparedness. One of the biggest, and most often overlooked side effects, of a disrupted schedule is the mental component. Make sure you’re dealing with these changes mentally and emotionally to ensure you’re 100% prepared for race day.
Fitness (CTL) Lower Than Predicted
As mentioned earlier, the goal of every athlete is to come into race day with as much fitness as possible. We can quantify this fitness with performance metrics like Chronic Training Load (CTL). CTL tells us how much fitness an athlete has at any given time. The goal of the taper is to keep CTL as high as possible while minimizing Acute Training Load (ATL), and bring Training Stress Balance (TSB) into the positive.
This process is often as much art as it is science, but the key to a productive taper is to not prioritize CTL above all else. This “fight for fitness” only serves to produce an ATL that’s too high, and Form (TSB) that’s too low. While a high CTL can be a good indicator of overall fitness and race preparedness, too much fatigue and bad Form can derail a race much easier than a slightly lower CTL than planned. If at all possible stick to your taper plan regardless of how CTL is tracking. The taper is not the time to be gaining fitness, but rather allowing your body to come “into form” so that it’s ready to race.
The taper can be a tenuous time for many athletes as they try to balance fitness, fatigue, and mental preparation. Much like the training that leads up to the final taper, these closing weeks and days require focus and perspective. Whether you experience schedule mishaps, feeling overly fatigued, or not seeing the level of fitness that was planned, any number of circumstances can force you to adjust. But if you consistently lean towards rest and recovery over fitness, even a less-than-optimal taper can be rewarding come race day.