You’ve spent all year, potentially longer, training for an event. You’ve poured an insane amount of time, energy and money to get to this point. You’ve been meticulously and religiously getting each session completed. Now it’s time to bring it all together and taper. Some people experience some interesting additional ‘gifts’ that come with the boost the taper brings. In this blog, we will discuss how to avoid the ‘taper tantrums’…

Covered in this blog:

  • What is tapering?
    • How long should you taper for?
    • Why bother tapering?
    • What would you do for an additional 5-6% performance?
    • How to design your own taper
    • Why don’t we taper into every event?
  • What are taper tantrums?
    • How to avoid taper tantrums
    • Examples of techniques to make tapering more easy
      • Replacements to training
      • Distraction techniques 
  • Summary

Taper tantrums are a natural part of any reduction in training load

What is tapering?

Tapering is the decrease in training load (volume by intensity) immediately after your final block of training and before your main event. 

How long should you taper for?

There’s no right answer to this, but I have some advice that will help. If you’ve not been training too hard, maybe you’re time strapped and you’re not feeling fatigued during the final week of your final block of training, you probably don’t need too much.

A taper can be anything from a day or two, to three weeks. If you’ve been training for an Ironman distance triathlon or Race Across America, you might consider the long taper. If you’re doing something multi-day, it is almost always better to come into the event undertrained than it is overtrained. 

Why bother tapering?

A well designed and executed taper could potentially give you an additional 5-6% in performance on the day of your event.

What would you do for an additional 5-6% performance?

Bad things, right…?

It can be very challenging when we start to reduce training as we head towards an important event

How to design your own taper

It’s not easy, a coach would be a great place to start, but it is possible, if a little time consuming and risky, to do on your own.

Firstly, there are a couple of time periods during your training year that are ideal to test out a taper. The first would be the events that you don’t care too much about; weekly races or sportives that are more for fun. The second would be your easier weeks. The weeks in your training are reserved especially for recovery. These weeks are frequent and so give you a regular opportunity to test some different scenarios.

As the name suggests, these weeks are only a week long (duh!), so how would you know if you need longer than a week? First, let’s see how you do with a test event at the end of each easier week. Keep that test repeatable and then try out a different variety of sessions the week leading to the test. You can try having an aggressive taper which almost stops training. You could try a far less aggressive taper and see how you perform. You’ve got 6 days (the 7th is test day) to do something different, so many possibilities. 

Once you’re fairly confident that what you have works well for your minor events or regular testing, it’s now time to test it out on something a little more important; not your main event, but something that means a little more to you. 

Armed with your ideal taper, how you performed on test day (did you get a nice 5-6% boost?) and your knowledge of the difference in load from your normal block of training and the last block before this moderately important event, you should be able to tell if you need a little more time. You might not need to double the taper you’ve planned the first time, perhaps trying just 10 days and seeing how you perform.

If the load is fairly similar between your testing and this moderately important event, you should be able to tell if your body needed that extra time. Of course, there are other influences that could have caused a difference in performance on this event, but do your best to marry objective and subjective measures to tell if you performed better (or worse) because you were fresher (or more undertrained).

Why don’t we taper into every event?

Some people ask me why you wouldn’t just do a longer taper during your normal training year. The answer is the same as to why, once you know your taper, you won’t taper into every event. Tapering is in essence undertraining your body. Of course, you want this for your main event as you’re also peaking, but too many tapers in a year and you just aren;t doing enough training to see the stress that needs to taper. Then you get reversibility. 

We have some important tips on dealing with taper tantrums

What are the taper tantrums?

I honestly can’t remember which of my clients used this phrase first, but thank you to whomever it was! 

Taper tantrums are simply the frustrations that come with training less as you approach the event. Some people might feel great reaching their taper, like relief they are almost done, but there are many people who struggle to not train.

For the people who can’t scratch that itch, what do they do?

How to avoid taper tantrums

If we consider that training is addictive, which it is, and that people who are experiencing this issue are just craving their fix, then we should look at treating taper tantrums like many other withdrawals.

Ultimately, this might just come down to replacing the addiction with something else (healthy!) or it could be about using distraction techniques. 

Examples of techniques to make tapering more easy

Let’s split this into the two categories I describe above.

Training replacements

  • If you have to be moving, try light walks - remember you aren’t stopping training, but reducing it
  • Meditation 
  • Family time; earn yourself some kudos (which might be used during yout main event) and be with family

Distraction Techniques

  • Watching professional cycling or your local races
  • Learn something new (study training methodology)
  • Read a book
  • Honestly, this list is easy and endless, you could probably add some yourself that you love, such as other hobbies

Summary

Like all things training, practise makes perfect. You have plenty of time to develop this in the time leading into your main event, but the best shortcut might be to speak with one of our coaches.

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