So, how do we answer the question ‘How should I taper into a race’? Of course there is no ‘one size fits all’ easy answer here. Saying that there are some rules of thumb you can employ and there are a couple of suggestions below that may help.
What ‘type’ of Race is it?
Lets rewind firstly, is this race an ‘A’, ‘B’ or ‘C’ race? What’s the difference?
Below is my own ‘ATP’ – Annual Training plan in Training Peaks. I have built this (as with all athletes) around key race goals for the year ‘A’ races. These are THE main goals, they have specific build periods into them. There will be specific tailored ‘tapers’ into these races to ensure peak condition.
‘B’ races are less important, these are ‘part’ of the training plan, and typically will have no specific training towards them and a very reduced taper. ‘C’ races (I have actually planned none). I give my view on ‘C’ races below. These would be where we trained straight through them and the race was just ‘part’ of this training plan.
So firstly, which race ‘type’ are we coming to?
Let’s look at the build of an athlete coming into a key ‘A’ race. The ‘A’ race is on Saturday 18th May and is an ultra distance TT. What we have been doing on the build into this race is progressively overloading the athlete and increasing his CTL (training load, the blue line), with short recovery periods. We have never been fully recovering, but balancing training load and tiredness. We have done this both via objective analysis after sessions as well as subjective discussion via calls and training notes.
As you will see, through next week the training load decreases (the pink line is ATL, acute training load , basically each individual session). As load reduces ‘fitness’ CTL actually drops – BUT this is a key target. We want to balance increasing the riders ‘freshness’ or TSB (training stress balance), the yellow line.
So we come into race day with high CTL – BUT fresh and ready to race. A TSB of 22, for this athlete will make him feel amazing!
As we have tapered we have lowered training volume, but maintained intensity, in line with the demands of the race.
Why no ‘C’ races?
Firstly lets look at why, for example, I have no ‘C’ races.
Personally I am not a huge advocate of ‘C’ races, where you train straight through them. Why?
- For me why spend the time and cost going to an event and effectively treating it as solely training, when you could actually just train? Time is limited!
- If you are truly training through it, going into it with the mindset of ‘I don’t care about the result, its just training’, is easy to say – much more difficult to do on race day!
- Mentally it can be hard to accept what for you will be ‘sub optimal’ performance. Some can cope with this and mentally pigeon hole it right, for others this can be a blocker and have negative connotations
Of course there are many benefits of ‘race practice’ be it in honing and practicing in kit, the ‘stress’ of competition and ‘race craft’. So this is a balance, and would be sport dependent. There are enough TT’s to allow you to either truly use them as ‘C’ races, or as I do many ‘B’ races with minimal specific preparation, but just enough to ‘justify’ the expensive, time and change in plans that racing dictates.
So – back to the question, How should I taper into a ‘B’ race?
In some respects preparation for an ‘A’ race is easier as its our long term major goal, with specific blocks of training built to this, It has an agreed and well defined ‘taper’ period. Preparing for B races can be more difficult. There is a balance between maintaining the macro training goals towards the above ‘A’ race, as well as being able to be in ‘good enough’ shape to justify travelling to and pitching up at your ‘B’ race.
Typically my racing week as I build towards key ‘A’ races may look like this, with the races here being ‘B’ races
- Monday, recovery / easy day after the weekends racing & training
- Tuesday hard intervals day
- Wednesday – volume day
- Thursday – recovery / low intensity & volume
- Friday – pre race prep ride
- Saturday – race / easy volume
- Sunday – race and / or long volume ride
I try and encourage athletes with ‘B’ races, if they can, to race on a Saturday. Why? Well that way we don’t ‘lose’ the weekend . If you work in the week, its likely you have two days off in Saturday / Sunday. So ‘just’ doing a short pre-race ride on a Saturday then race on a Sunday, is not a great use of the free time. If you can race on Saturday then you can still train on Sunday. OR if you must race on a Sunday, use the rest of the day to train as well. I will often race a ’25TT’ or ’50TT’ on a Sunday morning, I will still head out and do a decent volume ride that afternoon. The endurance benefit of this is massive!
The Friday & Saturday pre-race rides and race warm up’s can vary, but invariably follow a structure.
What is key in these sessions is:
- Wake up the body after rest / recovery on Thursday
- Rev the engine through the zones
- Simulate some short periods at and above race pace to ‘remind us’ what its like.
Below is a typical ‘pre-race day’ session I set for myself and my athletes. This would be specifically relevant for those racing high intensity such as a 10-50m TT or up to Olympic distance Triathlon. For longer events I would be setting lower volume (in time) as well as intensity to match the race (i.e.: no need to do >FTP work before a 12hr TT!)
Here we progressively , over just under an hour really ‘revving the engine’ and getting it ready to race.
For longer events I may shorten this to something like the below
Again the same ‘session direction’ but in a more condensed form.
So , that’s pre-race out the way. Race Day, how do we warm up?
This is a little counter intuitive, but the shorter the race the longer the warm up. So for a 10m TT, I may suggest a warm up such as the below, pretty similar to the ’30 min efforts’ above, but more condensed at the top end.
Again the key here is to ‘wake up’ the race zones.
This theory then plays through, so for a 50m TT, I may throw in a couple of top end ‘sprints’, but nothing else above SS (approximate 90% FTP, or target race pace). Also it would be shorter, maybe just 30 min maximum. We will be racing longer, so lets use less energy in the warm up!
Then we are off! be it a hill climb, TT or triathlon – we will be ready!
Hope this helps!