Tapering for the big event

No... Not 'tapir' - taper.
No… Not ‘tapir’ – taper.

It is a frequent mistake of many cyclists – overtraining. No where is this more true then the weeks leading up to a big event. I’m right there, right now. In two weeks from today I will have just finished the Seattle to Portland ride. That means this is prime time for me to think about tapering, and how that impacts my training schedule.

This year my training schedule had a bit of tapering forced upon it by a mechanical failure on a training ride. With my primary road bike in the shop a lot of my recent training rides were skipped, or switched completely different style of bike. But for most, the tapering process should be a lot more deliberate and planned. And no…. riding less is not going to undo all the hard work you have put in in the saddle.

Training can be a lot like drinking: to have a great time you need to know when to stop.

 — Carmichael Training Systems (http://trainright.com/tapering-week-race/)

Experts disagree slightly on the specifics, but all recommend a reduction in training workloads one to two weeks prior to your big events. Precisely how much will depend a lot on you as an individual, and the intensity of your normal training regime. Everyone agrees, however, there are a couple of key points that are critical in the final weeks. Doing these right isn’t going to suddenly add 10% to your power output, but doing them wrong can DEFINITELY have the opposite result.

  • Get lots of sleep. One of the main goals of the reduced workload while tapering is to allow your body to properly and fully adapt to the training stresses you’ve inflicted upon yourself. This means rest. And more importantly, good sound sleep.
  • Eat well. Weight conscious types may be worried about adding on pounds in the weeks leading up to an event – especially one that is climbing intensive. However, even more important than that glorious power-to-weight ratio is rebuilding adequate glycogen stores in your muscles. This is the fuel your body will need for those big efforts the day of your event, and you’ve been exhausting it in your training. Replenishing those stores will keep you in the mix come event day.

A two-week taper is most appropriate before a century ride. In the first week of your taper, cut your training volume by 40 percent. So, if you rode 200 miles in your final week of hard training, you would ride about 120 miles the next week. Cut back evenly on all your workouts. In other words, still do your high-intensity workouts, but make them 40 percent shorter, and still do a longer ride, but make it 40 percent shorter as well.

 — Active.com (http://www.active.com/cycling/articles/4-tips-for-a-strong-century-ride-finish)

Most also agree that tapering is a reduction in time in the saddle, but not the intensity of the training rides themselves. If Wednesdays are your normal interval days, then continue to do them. Just do less of them. Charmichael Training Systems recommends a 25-30% reduction in ride volume a week before your event. Still others recommend as much as a 50% reduction across the board in the final week. Trainer Joe Friel recommends a reduction of 40% two weeks out, followed by an additional 40% the final week.

As with anything you’ll need to modify and adapt these methods over time to achieve optimum results for your particular body. But recognizing that tapering is a necessary part of a complete training plan can help eliminate the stress that some feel. That stress is based on an irrational fear that missing workouts is going to erase all the work we have put in. The science actually shows the exact opposite.