A Basic Guide to Tapering
You’ve been training hard for months, and now you’re only a few weeks away from your GFNY event. You want to be sure your legs are strong but fresh on race day, yet you’re not sure how to manage your taper. In today’s article, we’ll take you through the basics of tapering and arriving to race day at your peak.
The Science of Tapering
Classic tapering models suggest that athletes should reduce training volume, while maintaining training intensity in order to arrive at race day fresh and peaked. However, large changes in training volume tend to work better for short, explosive events like track cycling or middle-distance running. For long endurance events like GFNY races, small reductions in training volume typically work better.
The Lead-Up to the Taper
For long events like GFNY races, I suggest starting your taper two weeks out. Earlier is not necessary and may lead to de-training. So, your last hard training block should end two weeks out from your goal event. I always suggest doing a long, hard ride exactly two weeks out from race day, as the last hard workout before the taper begins. This can be a ride that matches your goal time for race day, or slightly exceeds it if you’re an advanced athlete.
Two Weeks Out
The first taper week, you should sustain intensity and drop volume slightly. A good target is 70-80% of the weekly volume during your last build period. You can do up to 2 intense sessions, and I suggest a long endurance ride roughly a week out from the event. For more advanced athletes this can be around the same length as you think the race will take you, for intermediate and beginner athletes it should be around one half to two thirds the time you think it will take you.
So, for example, this week you could do intervals Tuesday and Thursday, with a long ride on Saturday or Sunday. The rest of the week would be a mix of short, easy rides and rest days. The long day could be 4.5 hours for someone targeting a top 100 finish at GFNY, or 3.5-4 hours for someone hoping to break 6 hours.
Important Note: For time-limited athletes (athletes who train less than 8 hours per week) I recommend starting the taper one week out, and training normally during the second-to-last week before their event.
In the final week, both volume and intensity drop a bit. In an ideal taper for a Sunday event, the athlete will perform one intense session that week, on Tuesday or Wednesday. That will be the last hard session before the event.
The rest of the time leading up to the event will be easy spins, perhaps with some light efforts to keep the legs ‘open.’ Many riders feel like if they go too easy, they feel overly rested on race day, and feel like they can’t dig as deep as they normally can. For this reason, it’s also important to ride the day before the race. If athletes want a day totally off the bike leading up to the race, I encourage them to take it two to three days out from the event. The day before I always prescribe a short ride, with a few small efforts to prime the legs. That can look like a 3-5 minute effort around the athletes threshold, plus a few 10-15 second sprints.
Nutrition is also important in these final days before the event. Old school carb-loading, consisting of one huge pasta meal the night before the event, is no longer thought of as a good idea. One meal so close to the event likely isn’t enough to top off glycogen stores, and it can lead to bloating, stomach problems, or trouble sleeping.
Instead, it’s enough to simply raise carbohydrate consumption slightly above normal at most or all meals in the final days leading up to the event. That, along with a reduction in training volume and intensity, will allow glycogen stores to be fully topped off on race day.
A reminder to pay special attention to hydration as well, especially if you’re preparing for a hot-weather event, or if you have substantial travel to get to the race. Travel often throws athletes off their routine, and flying can be especially dehydrating.