Monday, July 11, 2011

Peaking v. Tapering!

Going into the final few weeks before a key race (particularly long course or ultra) is not about tapering! Tradition has referred to the taper just as it has called for a pre-race carbo loading pasta dinner! Many of my friends and athletes are putting the final touches on their training for Ironman Lake Placid. For those that I'm coaching, the mantra that they're hearing is that they are not in their taper. There's still important work to do that the image of a taper would not conger up.

The last 2 weeks prior to race week is more accurately referred to as a peak period. I stress the distinction between the terms Taper and Peaking for a couple of reasons I think are very important. First, there's a huge psychological reaction to what you do when you're tapering. You tend to take training less seriously.  You focus on resting (important) and no longer feel the necessity of completing every workout. Secondly, tapering as most people see it, is a significant drop in training volume. While that's true in the peak period, it's only half of the equation. So here's what happens when an athlete is "tapering" as opposed to following a Peak Training Phase.

  1. The commitment level goes down. If you're tired during a taper, you tend to blow off the workout and just rest and relax.
  2. Your training volume and enthusiasm for training goes down. You'll go out for a ride or a run and make it more of a social event than a workout in preparation for an event that you've been training for over the past year. As a result, your pacing will get slower and you'll likely start feeling "stodgy"  which becomes a vicious cycle.
  3. Your weight starts to climb. It's likely that your appetite will not go down at the rate your training volume does. The pounds (that you really don't need to carry around on race day) start to mount.
  4. As a result, your race will not be optimum or reflect the work that you've put in.
A Peak Period, however, differs in this sense:
  1. You push through the temptation to slow down, but understand the importance of rest between workouts.
  2. The training volume you're doing goes down, but your intensity goes up. You train at a higher heart rate or power zone and do "mini-races" at race pace and above. You'll continue to feel the fatigue for several days after you reduce volume, but before very long, you'll start to catch up and feel much more rested and refreshed. Your pace will be fine tuned and you'll start to feel very sharp in your training.
  3. One of your key focuses will need to be on nutrition. Volume of Calories has to be proportionate to volume of training. The quality of those Calories also needs to be watched carefully. You may have "gotten away  with" eating anything during your high volume ramp- up, but that's not likely to continue now. Carbohydrate holds three times its weight in water so the more starch you put in your system, the more you'll weigh and it's not linear given the water retaining quality of CHO.
  4. Some of you are aware of, or are using the Performance Management Chart on Training Peaks. If you are, you know that you are looking for the "Yellow Line" or Training Stress Balance to come up to zero, while the other lines (Acute Training Load and Chronic Training Load) to come down. For those not familiar with this valuable tool, the key is that you need to rest, but too much rest is damaging just as too little rest is. The balance is in following a good 2 week peak period that consists of race-like intervals at lower volume than you've been training at, getting good sleep and rest when not training, and watching your nutrition very carefully.
The final week (Race Week) is looks almost like a third Peak Week, but with volume (again) reduced substantially and work being short but fast. Again, rest when not training is critical and a good nutrition plan (normal eating, not feasting) is paramount to your success.

Wishing all of my Inspired Performance Coaching Athletes and friends great success in your upcoming race, and as I always say: "Follow the Plan!" and Have Fun.

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