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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Tapering - Science or Art?

It's 8 days to the biggest triathlon event in the country, the Cobra Ironman 70.3 Cebu. The list starting with Arnold Abad to tycoon triathlete, Fernando Zobel de Ayala total to 1,340 athletes registered for the event.

Tri Titan, Chris Lieto
This premier event will also showcase 16 Pros including Kona War Veteran and runner up, Chris Lieto of the USA who is best known for having gone head-to-head with Ironman Legend, Craig Alexander and is one of the most lethal cyclists in the sport. Last year's Champion in Camsur, Pete Jacobs who also achieved a runner up finish in Kona is back to defend his title here in the Philippines. Also racing is David Dellow, Ironman Australia 2012 Champion and winner in the recent Century Tuna 5i50 Triathlon in Subic as well as former 70.3 World Champion and the inuagural Ironman 70.3 Philippines winner Torrenzo Bozone. European Ironman champion Caroline Steffan, of Switzerland leads the Tri-tans on the female side to challenge last year's defending champion and also the Century Tuna 5i50 Triathlon winner, Belinda Granger. Truly a clash of super powers in the sport.

Ironman Europe Champion, Caroline Steffan

The battle among the pros will surely be dramatic and exciting. But the real drama will be among the 1,300 age groupers who have put in huge volumes of training hours in the pool, on the bike and on the road running. Given the prestige of the Cobra Ironman 70.3, most of us have been training like gladiators for many weeks now. And though podium finishes usually rotates among a handful of demigods among the legions of  age groupers, many still aim to chalk in their PR's (personal records) on the record books.

We train much longer, more intense and at high frequencies. Unfortunately, oftentimes, all these goes to waste due to the absense of tapering. This is the needed marked reduction in training load a few days leading to the major race. After going through many weeks of high level training, some find it hard to ease up on the gas pedal either due to habit or even ignorance.

The rule of thumb for tapering is to follow a simple pattern. This usually suggests increasing training load by 10% to 20% 14 days prior to race day. Then the tapering duration is a 10 day period where training load is reduced by 40% to 60% to give the body time to absorb all the benefits of the hard training and recover from accumulated fatigue. For the more fit triathlete, the reduction in load is somewhat compensated by intensity in the workouts. For us less fit, the reduction in load is also coupled with a maintenance or even reduction in intensity. I personally just go through the motions of training and not push too much. I do maintain training frequency so as not to feel rusty.

During this time, you feel a surge in energy courtesy of the reduced training load. You must resist the temptation to train hard or too long. Experts say that nothing you do 10 days before the race actually adds to your performance. What's left to be done is just to stay sharp, keep the muscles active and preventing these from de-training. If you are able to do this, it is to be expected that your race will be at optimal levels commensurate to the training you put in.

Learn to ease up and relax.

Other tips during the taper period are the following:

Avoid Big Meals or Overeating. Your training load is much lower thus the calorie burn is also proportionately less. Sometimes, we still tend to eat at levels where your body's calorie requirement is still on base, build up or speed mode while the level of activity is on taper mode.

Avoid Strength Training. I find that doing strength training takes off the zip in my pace. Without the load needed to jumpstart power in my body, I prefer to just focus on specificity - swimming, biking or running.

Avoid Sleeping Late. The body is recovering from the accumulated fatigue. It's best to give it the amount of sleep needed to complete this task.

Avoid new diets or medication. Your body is a machine that's been programmed to race through training, rest, nutrition and concentration. If you introduce new elements such as performance boosters and the like, chances are, something's gotta' give.

In the end, you manage your taper according to how well you know your body. One man's tapering program is not necessarily universally applicable to all. I usually use the guidelines but listen to my body to achieve maximum results.

Good luck, everyone. 7 days and a few hours to show time.

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