How to nail taper week and avoid common mistakes.
It is race week and all through Canada athletes are getting excited about one of their key races for the season. Time to nail taper week.
Taper week brings with it some mental challenges that can lead to bad decision making before race day. Managing your body’s recovery, nutrition, and mental state before the race is the key to a good race. There is no more actual work to be done. I outline how to spot pitfalls of taper week that can derail your race.
Tapering for a big event comes with some good feelings, some bad feelings, and some challenges to your confidence. There is a saying, “Athletics is 90% mental and the rest is in your head.” That is true. Let’s go over how to manage yourself during a taper so you arrive to the start line ready to express your best possible fitness.
A good event taper has you feeling increasingly fresh, peppy, and excited to race. You will be able to complete pre-race training sessions easily as you become more and more rested.
Ineffective or inadequate tapers leave you sluggish, heavy, and negative about racing. Progressive unloading of training fatigue is not enough to perform at your best on race day. You need to keep the intensity and activation of your muscles throughout the taper.
There are two signs of a bad taper. First is when I hear athletes discussing how they did nothing before the race and still felt flat. This is a sign of too little activation or shutting down the training completely a little too late.
The second mistake in tapering is overcooking the activation. Prerace activation should be limited to race specific intensity or else you risk leaving it all in training in the week leading up to the race. Don’t use that speed, form, and intensity in taper training – SAVE IT FOR THE RACE!
To nail taper week is as important as planning your training. Once you have that plan in place, do not second guess it! Those people doing strides at world record pace at the venue before the race are wasting their form. Don’t fall victim to your nervous excitement! Save your good legs for when the gun goes off.
Tapering while maintaining proper nutrition before a race makes me feel kind of fat-no mincing words. Resting allows your body to store glycogen in your muscles that you need on race day. This leads to some water retention in your muscles and that “squishy” feeling. I always feel like a hibernating bear when I arrive on the start line of a key race.
Do not use race week as an opportunity to start cutting weight. Reducing your training and reducing your caloric intake on race week is a great way to lose muscle and have zero power race day. Embrace your squishy body and your stored energy then go crazy spending it like a drunk gambler in Vegas on race day. Manage your self talk in the days leading up to the race and for goodness sake stop weighing yourself!
The hardest part of having easy training, lots of food, and extra time is managing your spinning thoughts as the race approaches. Add the hype of the pre-race meetings, the thousands of athletes, and the crowds of spectators and you have a recipe for second thoughts on your preparation. This is why a lot of athletes fall victim to the mistake of over-reaching in the taper sessions or under-eating during their prerace meals. Self-doubt causes some athletes to try to validate their confidence in the days before the event by hitting times in sessions or seeing a low weight on the scale. Both of those things do not guarantee a good race and are more likely to prevent a good one.
To nail taper week, look back at the preparation you have done in the weeks prior to race week for validation. Discuss your goals with your coach, friends, and family to get encouragement. Take confidence in the fact you have prepared to the best of your ability and are ready to execute. NOTHING you do to training the week before the race is going to further prepare you and EVERYTHING you do around your training can derail your race. So kick back, relax, eat sensibly, and think positive thoughts.
Most importantly, arrive at that start line with a positive attitude ready to have fun. HAVING FUN is the key to executing your best possible race.
The most important aspect in your preparation is preparing the space BETWEEN YOUR EARS.