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The multi-week taper is the most welcome block in any periodization training program, and it’s not hard to see why: the hard work is done. There are no more days where the athlete is pushed to their limits and beyond. The day-to-day exhaustion from the final building block of workouts is over. In short, the athlete is as fit and strong as they’re going to get — and they should have a pretty good understanding of how well prepared they are to finish, compete, or even win their goal event.
From the start of the taper, a good training cycle will have the athlete reduce their workload, which gives their body time and energy to recover, grow stronger, and build up the endurance to crush their race. Ideally, the taper will leave an athlete bursting with energy in the last few days before their event. But a taper gone wrong can leave the athlete tired (they didn’t taper enough) or with lost fitness (the taper was too long or too easy). Even messing with sleep patterns can throw off a taper. Too little sleep won’t give the body the time it needs to recover and recharge — a tough battle to fight when the body feels, but may not be, brimming with energy.
Like everything in life, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to tapering. Each person needs to find and follow the unique taper that works best for them and their event. Shorter events such as a 5K running race or sprint triathlon require a shorter taper than a marathon or half iron-distance triathlon. Same goes for a time-trial bike race of roughly one hour vs. a 100-mile mountain bike race that takes 8-10 hours.
Even experienced endurance athletes with decades of training get their tapers wrong. Something unusual throws them off their game and takes their taper with it. It can be a business trip where they did zero training when they needed to do something to maintain their fitness. Or it could be something as benign as a hike with friends or family that somehow turned into an all-day, exhausting slog. Illness, lack of sleep, you name it — there are a myriad of ways to screw up a taper.
A coach can review the data to determine what’s going right or wrong and adjust the taper accordingly. Even if the taper goes wrong due to a sustained respiratory illness, a coach can modify the taper enough to salvage what’s left of the athlete’s fitness. Likely, the coach will modify the athlete’s performance expectations as well. For example, the goal of a PR (personal record) might be lost, but a solid and respectable performance is still possible.
The taper is where races and peak performances are won and lost. A coach, even Humango’s AI coach, can help athletes do it more effectively and confidently. An athlete who believes in their taper will bring that confidence to the event — and that may be the biggest boost a perfect taper provides.
Posted by Gaelle Abecassis