The Taper

The taper phase is the last phase of a training plan before your main race. In order to perform at your full ability level, you need to taper properly. Here’s everything you need to know about the taper phase.

First a few definitions (these follow the terminology that Training Peaks uses):

Chronic training load – the amount of stress an athlete has put their body under over the last couple months.

Acute training load – the amount of stress an athlete has put their body under over the last few days.

Form or training stress balance – the balance between chronic training load and acute training load.

Perf Manager with labels

Goal: The goal of the taper phase is to maintain your fitness level and increase your form.

In this context, form is a measure of your preparedness to perform at peak levels which is a balance of your chronic training load and acute training load. Chronically, you need to have been putting in a lot of work to increase your fitness level. Recently however, you need to cut back on the tough workouts so that you are fresh. That is exactly what taper is.

What it is/characteristics: The taper phase consists of lower volume as well as less intensity. Lower volume means that the weekly total mileage/duration as well as individual workout mileage/duration decrease. Less intensity means that time spent at faster paces or higher training zones decreases. Note that this does not mean that you need to do your zone 2 or 4 workouts at a lower intensity level, it does mean that you shift to more workouts in lower zones during taper. The taper phase is also sport-specific. That means that the limited training that you are doing needs to be in the type of sport that you are racing (swimming, biking, and running – not basketball).

What to do: Listen to your body. If you have aches and pains from the higher volume and intensity that preceded the taper phase, take some time to heal. Schedule a massage, do extra stretching, wear compression tights under your dress clothes at work. Doing things like that will help to improve your freshness before the race. Trust in the hard work and training that you’ve already done. The taper phase is not the time to squeeze in an extra workout or two or to tack on a few extra miles at the end of your workouts. You’ve already put in the hard work, so back off and let your body recover so that you’re ready to race.

What if I haven’t gotten in all of the training that I was supposed to? Taper is even more important for you! If your training volume is lower than you wanted it and think it should be, you should have a more severe taper (take more time to taper and cut back more on the total duration).

Open Water Swimming Tips

The sun is out, the birds are chirping, and it’s time to get out of the pool and into some open water! Are you ready? Here are some tips to get you used to the differences between swimming in a pool and in open water.

Sighting

The first difference you’ll notice when you move to open water swimming is that you don’t have a nice line underneath you to follow. In order to ensure you swim straight, you have to look up ahead of you periodically – sight – to make sure you know where you’re going. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Lift your head up and take a snapshot of the horizon.
  2. Put your head back down.
  3. Process what you saw and adjust accordingly.

It is important to break the sighting process into these three parts because it separates the snapshot from the processing. When you lift your head out of the water, it throws your balance off and slows you down. Because of this, you want to lift your head only so that your eyes come out (you’re not breathing) and make it quick. Then put your head back down before processing what you saw. Typically in races, the swim course is marked with giant, colorful buoys. All you have to do is spot that big blob of color which only takes a quick glance.

Wetsuits/cold water

The second thing you’ll notice in open water swimming (or maybe the first depending on how cold the water is) is that the water may be quite chilly. A wetsuit is going to make a huge difference in keeping you warm, so make sure you invest in a good one. The other great thing about wetsuits is that they improve your buoyancy. With better buoyancy, you’ll float on top of the water and glide over the water almost effortlessly. This is one of the big benefits of swimming outdoors in a wetsuit.

Other swimmers

The last major difference with swimming in open water is that there are other swimmers around you. Unlike pools which have nice lane markers, open water swimming can become a bit of a free-for-all with athletes bumping into one another. Take a deep breath, this doesn’t need to be as scary as it sounds. Many races now do wave starts to spread athletes out in the water right from the start. The best way to get used to swimming with more people around you is to practice it. Get involved with group swims because there really is no other way to get used to this. If you don’t have opportunities to practice this, I would suggest trying to get to the outside or inside of the course on race day so that you have a little more room around you until you gain more experience.