Vail Daily health column: Xterra champion explains how to ‘taper’ for your big race
July 16, 2013
My goal for XTERRA Mountain Championship in Beaver Creek this weekend is to arrive fit — and more importantly, well rested. As the buzz intensifies it can be hard to remain calm and stick to the plan. It will be tempting to get one more lap around the course or to test myself on the challenging climb, leaving me with residual fatigue on race day.
Most endurance athletes love to train, and in some cases will train to the point of self-destruction. It may be well intentioned, with the goal of a peak performance, but when high training loads are placed too close to a key competition, fitness gains may not be realized. It's one more long ride, one more lap of the course or one more set of mile repeats which leaves an athlete in a fatigued state on race day. Fitness is not improved during the workouts themselves; it is during the recovery from such workouts when the body achieves a higher level of functionality. Tapering requires careful planning and faith in your training, whereas self-sabotage demonstrates a lack of confidence.
High training loads may be a prerequisite for peak performance, but the results will not be realized without a proper taper. Although there are several effective tapering strategies, evidence suggests there are best practices when formulating individual plans. Bosquet (2007) conducted a meta-analysis on the effects of taper on performance and found the most effective tapering strategy to be a two week exponential, fast-decay taper in which training volume is reduced by 41 to 60 percent without altering training intensity or frequency. The primary goal of a taper is the disappearance of fatigue without the negative effects of detraining.
Most endurance athletes love to train, and in some cases will train to the point of self-destruction. It may be well intentioned ... but when high training loads are placed too close to a key competition, fitness gains may not be realized.
Since volume is drastically reduced, it may also be possible to enhance certain fitness parameters with short residual training efforts at a high intensity. To be most effective, this training should be performed in a rested state with adequate recovery (sharpening).
Different abilities have different training residuals. For example, aerobic endurance has one of the longest training residuals of around 30 days, whereas maximum speed has a training residual of around five days (Issurin, 2008). This partially explains why volume is dramatically reduced but intensity and frequency remain mostly unchanged.
First, plan your race schedule wisely. Although I sometimes use local races as hard workouts, I generally dislike the idea of races as training means. At the very least, plan short recovery blocks before all competitions. For your most important races of the year, consider a longer taper and avoid any excessive volume during this period. I often place my longest workouts as far as a month before key races. In the final two weeks, make sure your training is very polarized.
Maintain a similar frequency of training and plan a few hard interval sessions with the intent of working very hard in designated sessions, but go even easier than you planned in recovery sessions. Avoid that urge to test yourself with long, hard efforts too close to the race. I will do some of my taper training sessions at Dogma Athletica, where I can hit the necessary power numbers I need on the Compu-Trainer system and keep the overall workout time low so I don't get fatigued.
Finally, after all that training, have confidence that your body will know what to do when the gun goes off.
Josiah Middaugh is a Dogma Athletica athlete, trainer and coach. He is also a former Beaver Creek Xterra champion. To contact him or the other fitness professionals at Dogma Athletica, call 970-688-4433.
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