In the final two weeks before an event there is little extra training you can do to improve your fitness, instead the focus is on being as fresh and prepared for race day as you can be.
If you have been preparing for an event for several weeks or months the last thing you want to do is scupper your fitness in the final two weeks, but getting your taper right is surprisingly challenging. Reducing your training load, for many people, seems to leave the door open for insecurities, nerves and doubts to set in. Staying off the bike can take more discipline than getting on it and if you are worried that you are underprepared then there is the temptation for ‘one last’ extra session which instead of making you fitter will leave you tired.
With two weeks to go all your training is in place, if doubts set in look back over your progress in your training diary or Strava and look at all the sessions you have done. That is fitness in the bank. The purpose of your taper is to remove all residual fatigue so that you are totally fresh and eager to perform. The fine balancing act is reaching total recovery without losing your zip and speed.
Plan a last long ride at race-pace intensity and then cut back the volume of your training by 50% for the following week whilst retaining the intensity. This has been shown to have a better overall effect on performance than either a 30% or 80% reduction. Reducing the volume increases your recovery time as well as reducing your total training load. Cutting the volume allows you to recover but it is important to retain intensity, do shorter 5-10 minute intervals around zone 3 as this keeps you mentally and physically firing so that you don’t feel flat when race day comes round. Use the additional time to rest and make sure your kit and bike is in tip-top condition.
The final week of your taper should be very low volume with easy spinning sessions but include within each light spin intervals of 2 minutes at your race pace with four minutes of recovery. This won’t be enough to fatigue you but will keep your fitness in place. Psychologically seeing some good numbers at this point will also reassure you that everything is on track.
You may think resting the day before your event is a good idea but a light spin with four to five short 90 second intervals at race-pace and a further four to five 6-second sprints will keep you fired up. After this session it is particularly important that you use a recovery drink or have a snack straightaway as it will help to drive fuel into your muscles to be stored as glycogen ready to be accessed during your event.
Eating for tapering
During your taper you will be training less so to avoid weight gain you need to keep an eye on your food intake. Eat when you are hungry but really listen to your body and don’t eat more than you need. Whilst you may be conscious of the idea of carbo-loading this can backfire on you, many cyclists complain of feeling a bit wooden legged and heavy if they over eat during their taper.
Don’t be worried if you gain a small amount of weight, if you have been training hard it may be the first time you have a full stock of muscle glycogen which can add 3-5lbs including the additional water that is stored alongside it. Make sure you are drinking adequate amounts and if the event is likely to be very hot you may want to use electrolyte tablets in your water in the preceding two days.
Whilst the pasta party has long been a tradition amongst endurance athletes over-eating the night before really is something to avoid. If you have been eating well and tapering your muscle glycogen stores should be near capacity before the final evening. Eating a large meal can disrupt your sleep and lead to digestive problems on race day, particularly if you have an earlier start than you are used to.
To recap, follow these seven tips to make your taper successful:
- Reduce overall training volume by 50%
- Maintain intensity of intervals but reduce their length by 50%
- Decrease total food intake to reflect change in training volume
- Eat a clean healthy diet with plenty of complex carbs and protein, even if you normally eat a reduced carbohydrate diet.
- Get more rest and sleep
- Use your extra spare time to make sure your bike and kit is well prepared
- Reflect on your training progress and the sessions you have banked.
Written by Hannah Reynolds
Hannah is proof that you don’t need to be good at racing to pin on a number, just enthusiastic. She has ridden some of the world’s toughest sportives including the Haute Route Alps, La Marmotte and Megavalanche – the famous downhill mountain bike race.
When she’s not on the bike, Hannah is a freelance writer and journalist and former Editor of Cycling Weekly and Cycling Active. She is co-authour of France en Velo and Bloomsbury publications Fitter, Faster, Further and Get on Your Bike.