Over the past 6 weeks we have discussed how to ride safely on roads when first starting out, how to build fitness, setting goals, setting training zones, periodization, and specific training. It is a lot to take in, but it is also the recipe for success. However, have you ever tried a recipe that was just lacking that extra kick of taste? That is what the peak is for your race. Don’t put together the entire recipe and forget that little extra kick… learn how to peak at the right time.
This is a word that a ton of athletes like to use when preparing for races. You may hear it in the terms of a 3 week taper, 2 week taper, 10 day taper, or 1 week taper. For athletes that understand how to taper correctly, it can be a very effective tool for optimal performance. However, for a majority of athletes they tend to think of this as just “rest” and often become stale in the process. The goal of any taper is to keep fitness high, but limit fatigue that was placed on the body. This is done through a calculated manner which is discussed below.
If you have been following the blog series all the way through, then you are well aware of training zones, TSS, and the stress on the body that training creates. The taper is when you put all this data together to ensure a peak in “freshness” and overall fitness. It needs to be stated that Dr. Coggan came up with this method of tracking data and I will do my best to describe it in an effective manner.
With every workout you do, your body takes on additional stress which results in both fitness gains and fatigue accumulation. The goal of training in the build period (periodization) is to build fitness. This will without a doubt create fatigue that starts to accumulate. As your fitness gets higher and higher, you are becoming more and more fatigued with each workout. When you enter the taper phase, your goal is to reduce all of the fatigue while still maintaining your high level of fitness that you achieved. This often means that you are still working out (not resting) but rather training at a low level which allows the body to recover but also maintain that work you put in. This is where many amateurs mess up. If you rest too much you become stale (too much freshness) but if you don’t rest enough you go into a race without being 100%. (see picture for taper, yellow line is freshness)
How Much Rest Should I have
This really depends on the duration of the race and the demands of the race. Just like all the other data points, there is a number associated to freshness. 0 would be neither fresh nor fatigued. -25 would be a fatigue level that would be expected during a build. +25 would indicate an individual is very fresh and has reduced overall training load. When racing, each distance has different levels that are associated with optimal success, but you would like to see an “A” race, regardless of distance, somewhere in the +10 to +25 range. Anything over +25 and you start to get close to being “stale”. Again, look at the picture above and note fatigue during the build and the freshness going into race (IMTX).
Why Data is Great
I realize I stress data a lot and that is because it makes training very objective. Yes there are days when subjective feelings should be noted and you may not train off numbers. In fact, there should be days like this. However, when training for a serious event and trying to peak performance, data points create a process driven training plan that can take a lot of the guessing and stress out of it. Training becomes very easy when you start to trust the numbers and know that I have to hit 100 TSS today and I have to be at +20 freshness going into my race. All of your worrying about taper, training correctly, specifics, etc, is taken out of the equation. For someone who used to constantly worry about if I was doing enough, it has made training much more enjoyable and concrete. I urge you all to start digging into the data world if you aren’t already there. You’ll be amazed at how straight forward and effective it can be!
Subjective Disclaimer and Conclusion
After all that talk about data, you still need to be in tune with your body. This is where the art of coaching comes in and something that I really can’t put into words. The principles and theories are out there for us to use, but the art of coaching will always remain as individuals have different life circumstances and demands. This is the beauty of it all and why I’ve fallen in love with this career. At the end of the day, you can understand all of the data I’ve provided and theories on training, but you still have to make it work for you. That is why athletics will always remain great and a true challenge. How do you mix the theories into your life. That is the million dollar question!