You braved the icy February paths of the Greenway. You sweated to my bad music in spin class, and later conquered the hills of Afton and Stillwater. You learned to swim, and then to learned how to do it all over again in open water. You think more than ever about what you eat and when to eat it. And maybe, just maybe, you’ve been sucked into the triathlon culture, casually using words like “T1”, “kit” and “striders” as if they have been part of your everyday lexicon since grade school. With race day right around the corner you may be wondering, “Now what do I do?” The answer… not much.
Rest is the number one focus for the days leading up to your race. Often referred to as the “taper” (or “peak” or “end of cycle sharpening”) this training phase typically begins 10 days before a sprint or Olympic-distance triathlon. For those with a greater training load (>7 hrs per week for an Oly distance race), the taper should begin at least two full weeks out. Below are some tips to help your taper.
• Reduce Training Volume – The week before your race should see a reduction in training volume of 20 to 30% and a modest reduction in intensity (see next bullet point). The week of your race should include another 20 to 30% reduction in volume and a significant reduction in intensity. By reducing your training load, your muscles will have extra time to heal and rebuild from the workouts you’ve been putting them through. You will not lose your current level of fitness during a two week taper.
• Maintain Intensity – Even though your training volume is cut, it does not mean that you are simply “taking it easy” for the two weeks leading up to the race. If speed work/intervals have been part of your training, they should continue to be part of your training during the taper. However, the volume should be reduced. As an example, if you have been doing Yassos (800m repeats) or 1 mile repeats, these workouts should be replaced with slower runs that include short 1 to 3 minute bursts at a faster pace with extra recovery time.
• Extra Sleep – There is no better way to promote R & R than a little extra sleep. In addition to the mental recharge, many chemicals critical to the building and repair of muscle, like human growth hormone, are released when you sleep.
• Strength Training – Now is the time to take a complete break from strength training (I’m talking to you Todd and Nicole). That is, unless you consider yoga strength training…
• Yoga – Stretching and keeping muscles loose is critical. Stretch frequently. Yoga is one way to achieve this, but only if you have been doing yoga throughout the season. Now is not the time to try something new.
• Diet – The concept of carbohydrate loading has been debunked by science. By maintaining your normal diet and reducing the number of calories you burn (because of your easier training load), you will be accumulating extra energy stores that will help you on race day. Yeah, you might gain a pound but it will be burned off during your race.
• Diet, 36 hours to go – In the two days leading up to the race, pay special attention to your diet as your stomach will likely be a bit agitated on race day. Much like the practice bricks and mock triathlons you have completed this season, consider reducing fat and fiber intake. Additionally, increase your consumptions of water and salt starting the evening before the race.
• Silence is Golden – Do nothing new on race day! You already have a routine of your own and don’t need to solicit the advice of every friend, co-worker, and has-been athlete in your life who swears that pickle juice is key for hydration or that you should o.d. on Nyquil to get a good night sleep before the race or that you need to shave something or that…. Well, you get the idea. Stick to your plan.
• Thank Someone – Use the extra time in your schedule to spend quality time with your supporters. Many people have likely sacrificed to make your training possible. Now is a great time to thank them.
That’s it. The hard work has been done. Just chill out and rest knowing that all the hard work is done and you’re close to getting a(nother) Finisher’s shirt.