How To Taper Before A Big Competition!
Taper Week & Post Event Recovery.
Tapering for an event is key to ensuring your body is recovered and you are able to perform optimally on race day. All tapers are different and should be adjusted to suit your own recovery especially if you know you struggle to recover. There is a good general rule for races and events under and around the 2 hour mark.
I structure all my client's taper weeks in a similar way for 5km and 10km obstacle course races if you haven’t tapered before or are unsure what to do, this is a helpful guide on how to rest and maximise potential on race day! We’ll work backwards from the day after race day.
1 Day Post Race
As tempting as it might be to lay around all day eating pizza and doing nothing, I always recommend getting up and out for some light active recovery, a nice walk, an easy bike ride or a casual swim are great ways to keep your body moving and help get blood into muscles and aid your recovery. You should also be eating well today, make sure you’re getting enough calories and optimising protein and carbs to get your body repaired and re-energised so you’re able to get back to normal as quickly as possible.
DON’T TRY ANYTHING NEW!! This should go without saying but it’s a natural reaction to panic, seek advice and go against your own intuition and have a new breakfast or try a different pre-workout or fueling strategy, or to grab some new shoes/shorts/socks you’ve never worn before... Don’t. You should know yourself by now and be aware of what works for you and have trained in the gear you want to use with the fuel and hydration that works for you.
Make sure you get up with plenty of spare time so you aren’t rushing around, getting your heart rate up and making your body produce a ton of cortisol because you’re stressed about timings. Warm up properly and efficiently, you don’t want to start getting warmed up too early and cooling down while you wait. I always advise 15 minutes before the scheduled race starts to go for a light jog and some quick strides to get the blood flowing.
When it comes time to race, find a spot on the start line, don’t hold yourself to the back, place yourself as close to the front as possible so you can get out unhindered and settle into your race pace comfortably. This is especially important in OCR’s as more often than not there will be an obstacle not long after you start that causes jams which you don’t want to be stuck in the back of. Once you've started, race your heart out, have fun and be proud of what you achieve.
1 Day Before The Race
The day before a race people tend to become very sedentary in the hope that not moving will make them feel fresh the next day, often after long car rides to the event location. What you should be doing today is lots of easy movement and a short shake out run to get your legs loose and feeling good. I always recommend clients do around 30 minutes of stretching and then run 1-2km for a 5km race or 2-3km for a 10km race. These runs are done at a comfortable level which would allow you to chat to a friend as you run.
Eat a meal you’ve had before from a place you know is safe, this includes your own kitchen or anywhere you know has safe food. Personally I always go to Nando’s because I know I can get carbs, protein and fats and my risk of getting sick is very low. Make sure throughout the day you’re drinking plenty of fluids so you’re hydrated for tomorrow’s race. Get a good night's sleep, don’t eat late or stay up drinking beers and watching tv. Get into bed as early as you can get to sleep and maximise this rest time.
2 Days Before The Race
Rest. No training, eat normally and hydrate plenty. Although I say rest here, that doesn’t mean do absolutely nothing. It means don't exercise or elevate your heart rate. Try going for a longer walk and doing some active stretching throughout the day to keep the body primed and ready.
3 days before the race
This is always a tricky day for OCR events because in normal running events this is a 75% effort upper body strength session but depending on the level of training before and the amount of upper body strength required for an OCR this may vary. I program a workout that my clients have done before, and ask them to reduce the weights and intensity. I try to use muscle groups that will be less utilised during the race and that will recover in 72 hours.
My personal favourite session to do 3 days out is: 5 Rounds 10 barbell push press 10 push ups 10 butterfly sit ups 10 hammer curls 10 bicep curls 2 minutes moderate intensity bike or row.
I rest as needed through the workout and at the end of each round. I decrease my weights by around 20% and would aim to hold my pace about 10-15 seconds slower on my splits on the cardio erg. Food and Hydration should be pretty standard today. This is also a good day to do a bit of body maintenance, cutting nails short etc. As a random piece of advice, this is the last time I’ll wash my hair before a race. I do this because I find if long hair is too clean it doesn’t stay tied out of the way as well, and the most annoying thing is pushing hard in a race with hair flopping in your face.
4 Days Before The Race
This is your last hard session. I always program something here that I know is going to take your soul away without risk of injury (as long as you’re sensible). I do this to clear out the nerves of hard performance. I’ve found every successful person I’ve worked with has done a similar hard effort session here. How this hard workout works to improve your performance is almost entirely mental as you aren’t making any real performance or fitness gains here, but you can improve your outlook for the race. You push yourself 110% for this session and really dig deep into the pain cave to gut it out. This reminds you how hard you’ve worked to be here, how hard you can push, and how much more you can give. It also helps to look back on from race day and think “well this isn’t as bad as that workout earlier in the week”. Get some quality recovery after this workout, eat a big meal, drink some electrolytes and do a good half hour of mobility work. This is also when I try to see a sports massage therapist or an osteopath just to get any kinks worked out.
If you have a course map at this point, spend the evening studying it and plotting out points of attack on the course, utilise your strengths and mitigate damage done in weaker areas to get your best result. I always tell myself “there’s no point killing yourself to save 2 seconds up a hill to lose 30 seconds on a downhill because your legs are gone”.
5 Days Before The Race
This far out I try to get athletes to train as normal, for most of them this means a rest day (assuming the race is saturday and this is a Monday) because we’ll have trained hard over the weekend in our final week of preparation. Start to focus on improving sleep and nutrition quality today if you haven’t already been dialled in on this over the last few weeks.
Remember to have fun when you race. I always say to any athlete I work with, if you aren’t enjoying the experience of racing then we need to adjust. The training should be hard, the race is a culmination of hard work and time to show what you’ve got and this should be a fun and fulfilling experience!
By Sean Camp