After the months of hard work and training, Cobra Ironman 70.3 Cebu is finally fast approaching. For a lot of athletes, this is their A race: the race wherein everything is on the line. With all the preparation we put in, we want to be at our very best as we challenge ourselves in this illustrious event. This begs the question, “How do we maximize all the effort we put in?” The simple answer to this is to nail the Taper.
The concept of the Taper is often fleeting and misunderstood for most. While traditional coaches would refer to this as a period of rest, modern research has shown that it’s more complicated than that. Rest is of course, an essential part of the taper. However, I wish to emphasize that a more appropriate term would be “recovery.” Let me point out the difference between the two.
Rest, refers to a period of inactivity; when one rests, he/she remains inactive and idle. The main problem here is that this leaves the athlete sluggish and lethargic. Without overcomplicating things, the concept of rest aims to reduce the amount of stress in our body. However, in doing so, our body also gets a lesser amount of the “feel good” endorphins we get from our daily workouts (i.e. the runner’s high). This results in the feeling that our body is shutting down (e.g. taper blues). Hence, come race day, we don’t have that spring in our legs and the desire to explode off the starting line.
Recovery on the other hand, refers to a process of recuperation. Rather than inactivity, recovery involves “returning” to a previous state of freshness. As we go through our normal training program, we accumulate a lot of fatigue and stress. During the taper, we wish to unload all the exhaustion, to reach our top form. Recovery, or more specifically active recovery, puts a premium on keeping the engine humming while reducing the training load. This means that there are bouts of stress and rest (at controlled doses) throughout the taper period. In doing so, we get the benefits of reduced fatigue and the liveliness we gain from post-workout endorphins.
What then are we supposed to do during the taper?
1. Reduce training load gradually
There are different tapering protocols, some recommend reducing 20% per week, others follow a linear fashion. Taper duration is also different between athletes. The best thing to do is to try and see which one works for you. (Tip: Those with less training loads, need shorter taper periods)
2. Maintain intensity
As I discussed earlier, the key is to balance stress and rest. Without appropriate stress we will feel sluggish, too much of it, and we won’t get to recover. Maintain intensity but reduce overall load. This will help prime our bodies for the race.
3. Reduce caffeine 2 weeks out (especially if you’re using caffeinated gels)
Caffeine gives us an artificial boost in energy. Taking it too much dulls our body’s response to it. If we want that extra kick during the race, gradually reduce daily intake to help us become more “sensitive” to it once again.
4. Get more sleep
Spend the extra hours off from training to get in a nap or an extra hour of sleep. Our body recovers the most during sleep, hence, use it as much as you can.
5. Eat healthy
Reducing training obviously reduces the amount of calories burned. We don’t want to carry an extra pound or two of fat during race day. Eating healthily will also help our bodies recover faster because of the added nutrients and the more controlled insulin spikes.
Finally, let me just emphasize what we’re NOT supposed to do.
1. DON’T remain inactive.
As discussed earlier, no activity results in a sluggish and lethargic athlete.
2. DON’T try to aim for a new PR during your training sessions.
The reduced load will make us feel more energetic and lively. Don’t be over zealous and hammer the prescribed workout; remember to maintain intensity. Save it for race day.
3. DON’T carbo load during the taper.
Reduce overall calorie intake during this period. Recent studies have shown that the best carbo-loading strategy involves a short period of low carbohydrate intake (7-10days out) paired with a carbohydrate dense diet 2 days before.
4. DON’T keep yourself TOO preoccupied during the taper period.
Part of recovery is unwinding and relaxing. Try not to stress about things that aren’t related to the race. “Men sana in corpore sano.” A sound mind rests in a sound body. Staying stress free during the taper will result in a great performance come race day.
5. DON’T forget to think of your race strategy.
Now is the perfect time to plan out and absorb the perfect race strategy. Whether it be in terms of pacing, nutrition, or overall effort, having a proper plan will make things easier during the race.
At the end of the day, let’s all be thankful we have the opportunity to challenge ourselves in such an event. It is a blessing to reach this far and what’s left is to enjoy the race! See you all in Cebu! God bless, have a safe race, and best wishes!