Your Base has been built, you put in the quality Race Prep training, and now you’re a couple weeks out from your A-Race…
The final weeks heading into an A-Race can be the most difficult time of the training season for many athletes. At this point in the season, with two weeks to go, the training is done; “the hay is in the barn,” as is said. You worked hard for many weeks, if not months, to build fitness and prepare for a peak performance. Your last few weeks of training may have been among your hardest and/or highest volume depending on your target event demands. Regardless, you should be very fit, and likely quite fatigued from the quality work.
With your fitness at or near its highest point of the season, it is now time to recover and freshen up for a peak performance. With high fitness comes high fatigue (as both come from consistent training). While you can still race well with high fitness and accumulated fatigue, you will almost certainly race even better (ie. “peak performance”) if you can shed that fatigue and replace it with freshness; all while minimizing the loss of fitness… AKA: the taper and/or “finding form.”
Within that statement above is the tricky part of finding form and tapering: in order to gain fitness you must accumulate fatigue (meaning you may be very fit, but also a bit tired or lacking freshness). In order to gain freshness you must lose (some) fitness. It’s a balance and one that can be a difficult task to achieve to perfection. You must train hard to get fit – as you train hard you get tired – to perform your best you must train less (for a short bit) to regain freshness and achieve a peak performance. Sounds easy, right?
Lower the Volume…
There are many schools of thought and variables to consider regarding the taper process. Rather than go through all the options, I’ll choose to explain the most agreed upon strategy and share some details on exactly how we prescribe things at Waite Endurance.
First thing first is to lower your training volume. High training volume (i.e.. training a lot) is perhaps the most effective way to improve one’s fitness. By training less (and resting more) you then improve your freshness as the relative training stress is reduced from what you’re accustomed. This ‘lightening of load’ leads to improved readiness to perform. Training volume is determined by frequency of sessions and duration of sessions. The key part to focus on is reducing the duration of the sessions as this is typically what creates the most fatigue in athletes. (Remember: at this point you’re already really fit and the long sessions aren’t going to help improve your fitness once inside 2-3 weeks to go before your A-Race.) Maintaining your training frequency is usually beneficial for athletes training 4-8 sessions per week. Training more than 8 sessions per week may require a reduction in frequency as well.
It’s different for each individual athlete based on experience and training load, but a good rule thumb is to reduce your weekly volume (hours and/or tss) by 30-40% in the first week and 50-60% in the second week (not including your event) when following a 2-week taper into an A race.
Your normal weekly training volume in your recent Race Prep training block has been 13-15 hours with 700-800 tss…
- Taper Week #1 now drops to 9-10 hours and 500 tss
- Taper week #2 (race week) drops to 7 hours 350 tss (not including your actual event)
Maintain the Intensity…
With the training volume (and therefore, fatigue) decreasing, it is important to maintain the intensity in your program to avoid losing too much fitness and risk becoming “flat” or “stale” come race day. Relatively short intervals at high power outputs will do the trick perfectly in maintaining, even “sharpening”, your “top-end” energy systems and muscle recruitment for your A-race. While maintaining the intensity is critical, you will still lower the volume (or amount of time) spent performing intervals compared to your previous training block(s).
Another critical piece from our experience is to include all the “high intensity” energy systems (i.e.. power outputs) within the Peak Sessions as to “wake-up” and polish-off the energy systems for the coming peak performance. In our prescribed training blocks, we often focus on one particular high-intensity energy system (or maybe two within a week) for 2-4 weeks at a time seeking improvements. When it’s time to taper, we bring all the high-intensity energy systems back to the training table to tap into them prior to race day as to not let any energy system become “stale”.
Our Energy System (aka “training zones”) based off your Maximum Power capability:
- Peak Power, <30 sec. sprint
- Anaerobic Power, 1:00-4:00 power
- Vo2 Max Power, 8:00-16:00 power
- Anaerobic Threshold, 32:00-64:00 power (a person’s “FTP” falls within this range)
- Sub-Threshold, 2-hour power (aka “Sweet Spot”)
- Aerobic Threshold, 4-hour power
- Aerobic Endurance, 8-hour power
- BOLD being “high-intensity” systems
How we prescribe this when using a power meter is by targeting shorter durations of 1/8 the target power demand (compared to typical training sessions of 1/4 the target power duration). Our Race Prep Sessions also descend in interval volume over the course of the two-week taper from as high as 4x 1/8 power targets to 3x, 2x and finally 1x as the day before race “openers” session.
Your normal weekly interval sessions in your recent Race Prep training block has been Vo2 sets of 4×4:00 @ your 16:00 maximum power & Anaerobic Threshold sets of 4×8:00 @ your 32:00 maximum power…
- Taper Week #1:
- mid-week Race Prep Session 4x as [4×4:00 @ 32:00 power, 4×2:00 @ 16:00 power, 4×1:00 @ 8:00 power, 4×0:30 @ 4:00 power, 4×0:15 @ 1:00 power, and 4x Sprint]
- weekend low-priority race OR
- Race Prep Session 3x, same as 4x only reducing quantity of intervals from 4x to 3x (maintaining intensity, but lowering volume of intensity)
- Taper Week #2:
- mid-week Race Prep Session 2x, again reducing quantity of intervals to 2x each energy system
- day before event Race Prep Session 1x, with just one of each interval 1x [4:00-2:00-1:00-0:30-0:15-sprint] of each energy system (this is a pre-race workout we do the day before all B & A races; also makes a great race day warm-up)
Tapering and peaking for your A-race doesn’t have to be overwhelming or confusing if you remember the two key points:
- Lower your volume
- Maintain intensity
By doing both, you can lower your levels of training fatigue while increasing your freshness and readiness in order to race without sacrificing much fitness. You will even sharpen your energy systems for a peak performance!