The Taper: Saving Energy and Getting Faster In The Last Few Day’s Prior To A Major Event

As I write this I’m currently at the Invictus Games supporting the New Zealand Team. The Invictus Games are a paralympics style event for wounded, ill or injured service people from around the world. Whilst here I’ve been able to witness some good examples of what to do and also some examples of what not to do; so I decided to write this to help both the team currently that I’m here with and also other people in the future (shhh don’t let the Aussie team know about this article).

Key Points

  • Do the same number of training sessions each week as you taper.  Don’t increase them.
  • Keep the same intensity that you have in your programme.  Don’t try and go harder in the last few days of training.
  • You won’t get the gains from doing extra training in the last week until after the event.  Keep yourself fresh by not overdoing it.
  • Allow the body to rest.  This is where the gains from last week’s training will be made. Get a good nights sleep.
  • Eat an appropriate level of good nutritious food, maintain your level of hydration and minimise or exclude alcohol.
  • Do relaxing/restful activities and keep off your feet unless you really have to.

As you move closer to a major event whether it’s the Invictus Games or a stand alone event like an Ironman or a marathon, the principles remain the same.

  1. You want to arrive at your event well prepared and trained to perfection;
  2. You want to be well rested and don’t want to be too tired;
  3. You want to be psychologically prepared, but not overawed by the event or situation;
  4. Nutritionally you need to be well fuelled and hydrated; and
  5. You want to perform to your best ability.

To do all these you need to consider your priorities and manage your time well.

If you have travelled to another place for an event you won’t have the normal roles and responsibilities of family life and work to complete and are effectively on holiday and will have plenty of spare time on your hands. What do you do to fill this spare time?

You could do more training, but more training doesn’t always mean better performance. Training only makes you better if and only if two things occur. Firstly you need to recover from that training.  Secondly the training stimulus needs to enhance your fitness (and that doesn’t occur as a result of the training, it occurs as a result of fully recovering from the training).

If the training is too close to your event, there won’t be enough time for you to gain the benefit of the training, and if you do too much you risk making yourself more fatigued. In the last 7 days before your event it is too late to catch up on training you may have missed out of your build up. You simply won’t get the benefit of the training, as that will come after your event.

Is what you are looking at doing going to enhance your performance or obliterate it? Over the last three day’s I’ve clocked up 65km walking and running around Toronto and I’m pretty tired and am feeling it in my legs as a result. It’s just lucky that I’m not competing as that will take a lot out of my legs that could have been better put to use in my race or event. It’s important that you don’t waste too much energy getting around the place (especially if you don’t need to).

Sleep is when the body does it’s best recovering.  Minimising your sleeping time by having late nights in the build up to an event is not going to optimise your performance. I realise sleep is sometimes hard to come by especially if you’ve changed time zones. But take things easy at the very least and if you can’t sleep, the next best form of rest is lying in bed doing nothing. Allow your body to recover and rest up ready for your event.

At some events there is a lot of hype. There certainly is here in the Invictus Games village, with a DJ pumping in the foyer and lots of teams milling around. There is a really great vibe, but this great vibe is also tiring and draining particularly of emotional energy for some people. If you find this type of environment draining, keep away from it. Spend time away from the venue just relaxing or even lie down and have a sleep or do some yoga, meditation or Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR).

As you get closer to your event you should be decreasing your training and doing more to enhance your recovery. Doing some yoga or the PMR linked above will help with your recovery or maybe you will chose to do some stretching or gentle exercise (but not too much though).

Psychologically you want to be optimally excited without being over-excited about the event. You certainly don’t want to be scared or psyched out by the event, situation or your competition. Ask yourself why you are doing the event? If it is for personal reasons, then does it really matter about the other competitors? No, because although they maybe on the start-line together, you’ve both taken a different journey to get there and are probably competing for different reasons. If you are competitive in nature ask yourself what constitutes a successful event? Is it purely based on your performance, or are you wanting, expecting or needing to influence your competitors results. Sometimes, you can influence your competitors results based on tactics you employ (e.g. if you know they are really good at sprinting the last 200m of a race, if you surge hard a few times before the last 250m it will drain their fuel tank and take the kick out of their final 200m – but you better do it right or it could leave you too fatigued to hold them or other competitors off).

Generally though you can’t influence what your competitors have done in training, how well prepared they are, what their race or event plan is, nor how they execute it.

Focus on controlling what you can control. Do everything in your power to put yourself in the best position to achieve your best result. Some people need to be nice and calm to achieve their best results, but in more short or power dominant events getting amped up gets people to optimal psychological-arousal for their performance.  Generally the longer an event is the more calmer you should be to be able to maintain it for the duration of the event.

Some events have massive crowds. Some people feed off a big crowd, others withdraw into their shell. If you are distracted by the crowd (or your competitors) this can take your mind away from other more important things like getting a clean start, keeping an even pacing or watching and countering the tactics used by your opposition. My advice is to feed off the crowd initially but put your focus onto your performance prior to the start-gun. Narrow your focus on what you need to do, zone out from the crowd and other distractions as you get closer and closer to the start time.

To make this easier I recommend lying somewhere (the night before in bed prior to going to sleep is always a good time and place) and envisaging what this is going to look and sound like (maybe even the smells). Imagine the crowd, imagine every last detail, imagine warming up, imagine preparing to start, imagine the start, imagine what the race looks and feels like, imagine the finish. If you take the time to imagine what it could all look and feel like, when you actually do it all it will be somewhat similar (not exactly similar, but close) and the situation isn’t going to be overawing for you.

Your body need carbohydrates to fuel high intensity exercise, so making sure you have enough on board for your event and if you’ve got multiple events you need to make sure you refuel to top up what has been used. Carbohydrate uptake is influenced negatively by alcohol consumption, hence recommendations to avoid alcohol during the final preparation phase. Alcohol also dehydrates you, meaning you have more water to drink to do to maintain or increase your hydration levels depending on if you are already optimally hydrated or not.

As you get into the last week to fortnight prior to a major event, you are going to want to decrease your training so you can recover more. You can decrease training by doing less training sessions, or doing less volume within those training sessions (or you could do both). The key thing is you don’t decrease the intensity. You need to continue to show your body the various intensities you will show it in the event(s) you are doing. If you do a hard interval session once per week normally you should still do that hard interval session but it should be at the same level of hardness but not for as long as it normally would be. Short and sweet is the key in the last block of training. Now is NOT the time to ramp up your training.

Key Points

  • Do the same number of training sessions each week as you taper.  Don’t increase them.
  • Keep the same intensity that you have in your programme.  Don’t try and go harder in the last few days of training.
  • You won’t get the gains from doing extra training in the last week until after the event.  Keep yourself fresh by not over doing it.
  • Allow the body to rest.  This is where the gains from last week’s training will be made. Get a good nights sleep.
  • Eat an appropriate level of good nutritious food.  Maintain your level of hydration and minimise or exclude alcohol.
  • Do relaxing/restful activities and keep off your feet unless you really have to.

The last few days here in Toronto I’ve seen a number of people do some great things for their performance in the Invictus Games.

Examples of these are:

  • Always having a water bottle with them;
  • Relaxing by the pool, doing nothing;
  • Making healthy food choices; and
  • Doing their training early and then nothing much else for the rest of the day.

Examples that go against these principles:

  • Training really hard, at both high intensity and/or multiple sessions each day;
  • Spending the rest of the day walking all around town;
  • Having big nights out on the town, coming in late and drunk; or
  • Eating a large amount of unhealthy food options.

If you aren’t worried about your personal performance and would rather take advantage of other opportunities that the event location you are at offers there is nothing wrong with that, but if it does you need to make wise choices to ensure you perform at your best. For these reasons many Olympic athletes will forgo key aspects of the Olympics to ensure they are on peak form for their event.

 

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