Tapering for a race - Kieran Jackson Guest Blog (Irish Sprint National Champ 2019)
Kieran Jackson is one of Ireland's many top triathlete talents. He's had a strong year so far focusing his energy on SuperLeague racing and finally the French Grand Prix racing, where he will compete with the world's best next weekend. He's also become the newly crowned Irish Sprint National Champion. We've asked him to write a guest blog on how he approaches his taper for a race.
You’ve committed to your training programme, you’ve put up with the early mornings, late evenings, wind, rain, you name it. Now it’s getting closer to your race, you want your body to be in the best physical and mental condition to ensure you race as well as you can. But, how do you get your body into that shape?
One of the most important aspects of racing is the week leading into it. This is known as tapering, tapering is defined as the reduction of training volume and intensity in the days leading up to a race. You don’t want to train too much, but you also don’t want to train too little either. It’s a hard balance. Furthermore, what do you eat? How much rest do you need? And what about hydration techniques?
The first thing I’m going to tackle is the aspect of tapering. Tapering is very individual; every athlete has their own technique for tapering and ensuring their body and mind is in optimal shape prior to a race. Breaking down your training into frequency, volume and intensity makes tapering a little easier. In the final two weeks leading up to your race, you need to gradually decrease the volume and frequency of your training. If you’re used to training twice a day or once a day, decrease the frequency by training twice a day on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and train only once a day for the next few days, or you could alternate days by training twice on Monday, once on Tuesday, etc. For those that train once a day, you could take an odd day off in the two weeks leading up to it. But when you are taking these days off during your taper, try to ensure you’re not planning any extra activities, make sure you sit down, drink plenty of fluids and eat. Intensity wise, everyone is different, I prefer to keep a little bit of intensity in my sessions leading up to a race but keep the volume/duration of the efforts down. This ensures that my body still knows what to do when it comes to race day. It is totally normal to feel sluggish and tired leading up to the race, this is a normal part of tapering and it means you are doing a good job funnily enough. When it comes to warming up on the day and putting in some race pace efforts this should start to go away.
In terms of what to eat, I usually try to ensure I’m still eating very well, I will decrease my intake of fruit, vegetables, and milk getting closer to the race as they can upset your stomach and are a little harder to digest. My carb intake relatively stays the same as I’m doing less sessions, less volume, so therefore if I keep everything the relatively the same in terms of carbohydrates and proteins my body will be able to sufficiently store enough in the muscles come race day. Don’t get caught up in trying to carbo load and eat too much in the week leading up to your event, because you’ll probably end up gaining a pound or two! For my pre-race dinner, I’ll usually have something really easy to digest, like rice, with a small bit of chicken, no veg and no sauce. Dry and dull is best as it shouldn’t leave you feeling like you’ve eaten a horse!
Ensure that in the week leading up to the race you’re getting enough sleep, hydrating every day and recovering well after every training session you do. In short, eat normal foods with an emphasis on it being easier to digest in the days leading up to the event, sleep well (7 hours + if you can) and keep your hydration right.