During the course of the day with banter flowing between riders doing the Munga next week I have come to realise that many people don't understand what constitutes an effective pre-race taper.
Tapering is the period leading up to a race when you back off from a hard training regime so as to rest out the fatigue of training while maintaining fitness and race condition. It's not something I have mastered but I'm getting better at it. It's more art than science as we all respond differently to exercise and rest. Even so, there are good guidelines that can be followed that will get you to the start line in good shape.
Owing to my lack of mastery I got hold of Benky and asked him to share his hard gained experience. He has done just that. Read, digest and enjoy.
Guest post by Kevin Benkenstein.
The mysterious taper. Barely understood, including by myself, hard to get right but oh so good when you nail it. I won't profess to have a coaching background but I listen to those who do, trial and error on myself and do my best to listen to my body along the way too. So this is what I have learned and what I think will help you.
1. Keep riding! The biggest mistake I see people make is to stop riding, for fear of being tired. This however only allows your body to click into holiday mode, making it that much harder to get going on race day. It is very important that you keep your normal riding schedule in the week before a race.
2. Maintain the intensity. The taper is slightly different to a rest period in that you are not slowing down to build back up so much as letting your body absorb the training that you've done to take advantage of it on race day(s). You should maintain your normal riding intensity but at a lower volume, as per my next point.
3. Lower your volume but not too much. I have found that 75-80% of my normal training volume allows me to keep fitness while also developing enough freshness to get 'fast' again. So I do everything to that margin: Rides become 1/4 shorter and I do 1/4 less intervals.
4. Keep the intervals. If you've been doing intervals you'll want to keep doing so so that your body remembers how to hurt a little and also 'stays awake' as I like to out it. Moderate the volume and intensity but keep doing them and make sure that you remind your body that it's not sleep time just recover time.
5. It's not just about riding. In this time it's important to focus on sleep, stretching, nutrition and even stress levels so that you can recover in every way. Each of these factors will have an effect on your race performance and that must be considered.
6. Mental preparation. Racing is as much if not more mental and so I like to spend the extra time I have from not riding to preparing my mind for what is to come. I run over race scenarios, expected and known events in the race and remind myself what I will do at those times. This allows me to be calm in the race as everything I do feels touring. This is an important extra to the traditional taper.
7. Last but not least is listening to your body. You need to give your body your full attention and focus to get the best out of it. This includes trusting it even though it will feel 'different' not being constantly fatigued and letting it tell you what you need to do. Learning to listen to your body is the greatest skill of this all.
The length of the taper is proportional to the length and needs of the event. An 'A' event that you work towards all year deserves a proper 7-10 day taper, such as for Munga. The same applies to any truly long event that will take a lot of physical and mental effort. For some shorter 'building events' I might just take 3-4 easier days beforehand to freshen up but when your whole year or 6 months has built up to the day a little more time should be invested.
At the end of a taper you should feel energetic, motivated and have a feeling that your body is restless and ready to fire. In the case of Munga you should really just want to get on your bike and ride far. That is the goal, to get the excitement and motivation as well as freshness to a new level so that all of the work you have done and fitness you have built can show itself in the race.
So keep riding, keep doing what you do when riding, listen to your body, think about the race, rest and get ready for a lot of fun!