Monday, September 24, 2012

Trying to get the taper right

On the long list of do’s and don’ts that I’ve learned through hard knocks this year in training and racing I would put how not to taper at the top of the pile.  How not to taper?  It’s very simple.  It whittles down to not beginning a taper feeling like crap.  Beginning a taper feeling crappy will most likely carry over to a crappy taper in general, which then of course would lead to (among other things) diet, mood and confidence swings, an overall less than stellar performance on race day, an elongated recovery or some mixture of all of the above.
“Feeling like crap” might mean different things to different people.  There is over-trained feeling like crap.  Habitually sore muscles feeling like crap.  Injury feeling like crap.  Daily low energy levels feeling like crap.  Less than enthusiastic (i.e. “what am I doing this for?”) feeling like crap.  And so on.  Whatever the case may be, and there could be several, simultaneously, one must be vigilant in minimizing the feeling like crap factor prior to a taper.
The more fit, loose, confident, etc. one feels at the cusp of a taper the better and better one will continue to feel throughout the taper and, thus, the better one will likely perform at their chosen event.  This probably sounds obvious but in reality many of us, myself included, have a tendency to peak train intensely leading up to a taper, often feeling tapped out at the time taper begins and think that is how we should feel three weeks, two weeks, 10 days or what have you out from an event because we have time to recover and energize.
I’ve certainly begun a taper feeling crappy.  Sometimes I’ve even raced well after a crappy taper.  Sometimes I’ve even recovered well too.  But more often than not, after a crappy taper, I’ve always felt as though I left something on the table after the race; as if I could have done better.  That includes races I’ve run this year.  Western States is a prime example.  This might sound like BS but I pretty much felt like shit even two days before the race.  In that case, the feeling like crap factor for me was that I was over trained.  Feeling like crap at the time of the taper shook my confidence and let’s just say the final few weeks leading up to the start in Squaw were bumpy.  My mental game definitely improved in the hours leading up to the race but, deep down, I knew my body wasn’t properly prepared.  Rather, it was over prepared.  And my post race recovery was longer and slower than normal too.
Some people I know don’t even taper.  They don’t because they know it will make them feel like crap.  I’ve often felt this way.  But in reality I think this is not true- which is part of the whole point of this post.  Plus, there are flat out some types of races that simply do not require much of a taper or a taper at all.  100s are a different story all together.  100s require a taper.
I am speaking up about this now because Grindstone is right around the corner and it recently occurred to me that I definitely do not want to begin another taper feeling crappy from the get go.  I know where that road leads.  So what I have done about it?  Based on my recent Western States experience the first thing I did was cut down the volume a bit immediately preceding the taper- which I should point out is what I am doing now.  Tapering.  I also nipped and tucked a few of the longer runs over the past few weeks that in recent past I would have thought I needed.  Nor have I been much concerned with weekly elevation gain.  The fact is I’ve run a ton already this year- more miles and more vertical than in any year prior.  I look at all of this year’s training and recognize that without allowing the body to absorb an actual real rest period (which will come after Pinhoti) not much added benefit will come from continuing to rack up heavy, heavy training.  In fact, it could produce the opposite: diminished returns.
One of the truisms in training and in life is that each new season is different, and this is what I know is working for me right now.  By assessing how I felt leading up to the current taper and by making a few modifications along the way I now feel fit, loose and confident.  I’m ready to rip at Grindstone.  I can feel it.
All of this is to say that going forward I will definitely play closer attention to the feeling like crap factor before beginning a taper.  Whatever the case might be- overtraining, etc.- in whatever season I find myself.  By focusing on starting the taper feeling good, as opposed to focusing on ending the taper feeling good, I am confident better race results will come.


  1. Some really good points, Neal. I've been having crappy tapers all year and now I realize that most of them were because I started the taper feeling stale. Maybe actually planning for the taper (other than just saying, "I'm starting the taper on this day") would be smart. Like start gearing up for the taper a couple weeks ahead with some shorter, quality workouts (confidence builders). Definitely a tough part of the training/racing cycle for many.

    You've got a big month and a half coming up! Good luck with them and save a little speed for JFK.

  2. I guess it kinda depends on how you define when the taper begins. By cutting back before your taper so that you'll feel good going into it, aren't you just kinda beginning the taper a little earlier? Some taper plans call for a cut-back that isn't very drastic at first. Anyhow, I'm all for the idea of not over-training, and feeling good, in general. It's kind of how I try to train. More quality than quantity and listening to the body rather than shooting for numbers. Oh wait, that's mainly because I'm a slacker. My current plan is to ride the year's fitness out through November, but that's more for a lack of motivation to train, in my case. I'm on a permanent taper.

    See you at Pinhoti! And good luck at Grindstone.

  3. Good points by both also. I think one can have it all- volume, quality, feel good- but certainly not all the time. The trick is keeping all three in unison for as long is necessary/desired. Each training block and resulting taper can be totally unique from the last one, or any other before that, and so I think just like adapting the training it is equally important to adapt the taper. If that means planning ahead for it, like Tim suggested, even better. For me, like I said in the post, it is just a matter of finally realizing that beginning the taper feeling good is important. And so whatever I need to do to adapt and keep things fresh (run less, even run more) I will attempt it.

    Amy, see you in Alabama!