Tapering for a big Race
Everyone has a race that they want to make sure that they perform at his or her best for. For most canoe racers that usually means 1 or more of the Triple Crown Races and with the first one of those races approaching I thought it was a good time to discuss this concept. If you have never tapered before for a big event using some of these strategies can definitely help increase your performance on the big day.
Tapering is the concept of reducing your training volume and intensity prior to an event to ensure that you are rested and recovered properly so that you can perform optimally for the big race. With the months leading up to what we will call an A race (triple crown race) you should be increasing the volume and intensity of your training to improve your fitness. this is by far the largest component of how well you could perform at the race but you might not perform at your current fitness level if you hit the starting line over trained and under rested. For those racers out there that feel that they lose fitness every day that they are not on the river or paddling with an all out intensity the concept of tapering may be the hardest part of the pre race prep for fear of losing all that they have worked for. Let me assure you that you will not lose fitness over night and you might be surprised at how well you actually do perform once you use a proper tapering protocol.
Now there will be a number of races throughout the year that will take little to no tapering at all. These B and C races don't require the same planning as an A race because they are either much shorter in distance or are actual tune up races for the A race and are a part in the overall strategy of building peak fitness for the A race. For these usually only a day or two of rest is what will be needed to perform well and I have heard many racers go into these races deliberately pre-fatigued to help them prepare for their A race by mimicking racing while tired that will happen at the tail end of their big race.
Their is no one way to do a taper but there are some general guidelines that you can follow that will help you be best prepared when the gun goes off. The duration of the taper will often depend on 2 major factors, the length of the event, and the how fatigued you are with your training. Most A races will require a taper of 7-10 days but I have heard of many triathletes tapering for 2 weeks prior to an ironman race. If you have been pushing your training for the max for months with little to none rest time you might want to stay closer to the 10 days and conversely if you haven't been able to get in the amount of training you would have hoped for and don't feel like you need a taper you could most likely stay closer to the 7 days.
The next big thing once you have decided how long to taper is what will your taper workouts look like and how many workouts will you do. A good rule of thumb can be to increase the number the number of complete rest days during this time period. If you normally take 1 total rest day a week you might bump that up to 3 if you are doing a 1 week taper or maybe 4 total if you are taking a slightly longer taper. The workouts duration and intensity should also be reduced. This is not the time where you need to pound out hours of work as it will not benefit you come race day. There should be no "long" days planned inside of your taper. Those should have been done prior in your build phase. These workouts should be short and crisp but should include some "quality" or harder intensity efforts but in a reduced capacity compared to your normal training. For example if you have been doing tempo paced workout of 6 sets of 10 minute efforts you might reduce the number of sets to 4 and the duration to 5-7 minutes each.
Now there is as many approaches to the taper as there are paddlers our there so I asked some paddlers out there what their approach is when it comes to tapering for A races and here is what some shared.
Tapering First, remember that there isn’t a lot you can do to improve your performance the last week or ten days before a race, but a ton that you can do to hurt it. Trust that your preparation before the event is enough, and that you know what you are doing. Even if it doesn’t come out the way you hope, the experience you have is another chance to learn. I don’t have many things I “won’t” do before a big race, but generally I don’t do any long paddles the week or so before (4 hours or more), unless I know I can get two full days of rest to recover. My rest days are real rest days, maybe a walk or some yoga, but nothing that will get my heart rate too high. I am always racing the weekend before a big race, so those are most of my intensity minutes for the week, although one short interval workout on Wednesday or Thursday is a must to feel primed. Usually, this work out focuses on starts, and will only have 10-12 minutes of real “work” time, the rest just warm up, cool down, and rest between efforts. Anytime I spend in the boat the week before the race I try to really focus on glide, and visualizing good execution. These things calm me down, and also are “training” I can do that isn’t intense, but could translate to the boat moving better in the race. The day or two before the race, and definitely if I have been traveling, I need to paddle for about an hour to feel comfortable on the starting line. I hate racing straight after big days of travel for a race, with no time to work the kinks out. Sometimes that means I have to run a couple of miles somewhere on the road, but that makes me feel less out of touch when I do get in the canoe. Traveling is a huge part of our sport, so making sure I can sleep well on the road is big. I try to focus on getting at least 8 hours of rest time per night for two weeks before the race. I start using meditation to fall asleep, so when I get pre-race jitters in an unfamiliar (hotel) setting I have a night time routine that travels well, and calms me down. I know the days we are on the road I won’t sleep as well, so feeling rested going into race week leaves me feeling more confident. Making my own food when possible, or sticking to more basic dishes (meat, potato, vegetable) works well for me, but everyone will have something different when it comes to nutrition and what is both comforting, satisfying, and digestible. I try not to be too picky on my pre-race food, because sometimes it’s just not feasible to stick to a super strict routine, which just causes more stress than it is worth. Don’t second guess your boat set up. If the seat and foot brace, food trays, etc. have been working well for the past six months of training, there is no reason to go move everything all over the place because you suddenly had a brilliant idea- that idea is just nerves causing you to feel the need to “do” something. Of course, making repairs, or fixing a real issues is important, just don’t overthink it.
Ben plans on hitting his peak around 11 days prior to the race. He then takes a rest days, follows that be a couple of 2hr paddles and then another rest day. During the week leading up he does 1-2 short speed sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then rest day on Thursday and the Gen Gap race on Friday followed by some short scout paddling during the weekend before the race. He will toss in some runs all week but will also lessen the distance and intensity of those leading into race day.
I try not to get caught up in tapering you still want to have that edge for the race but that last week I will usually do a interval day and still try to get some running in but I do try to take 2 days in a row off then those last 2 to 3 days before your just checking out parts of the race so your not really going hard
I don't really have a strategy for tapering. Aside from Florida training camp I only get 3-5 hours per week which is low volume for most people. So I just keep paddling the little that I can.
As you can see there are very different approaches to the week or so leading up to an A race. If you find that you have not had the best race day performances in the past and have also never though about tapering prior to race day, I encourage you to try some the of the strategies outlined above and I think you will be pleasantly surprised come race day!