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Taper Interrupted

by Mitch Gold


May 23, 2012

2012 HonuCamp Reports   

Most of us have worked hard during the early part the season building our base and developing strength. The preseason training races are behind us, and only the most important “A” races remain. How you approach these races can mean the difference between feeling flat as pancake or popping off a PR. There’s been a lot of discussion lately on how to best taper for your most important race, so I thought I’d introduce the “Taper Interrupted”. This ain’t your mother’s taper so read it with an open mind. I’m not saying it’s for everybody, so make sure you test it out in training (actually, you probably already have and don’t even know it). Have you ever finished a big block of training and felt stronger than ever? Have you ever felt sluggish and tired at one of your most important races? Maybe it’s not your training. Maybe you’re just sending your body the wrong message. It might just be time to take a closer look at your taper.

My interest in tapering developed a few season ago at the Eagleman 1/2 Ironman. This was purely a training race. It was at the end of a big three week block of training and my intent was to go into the race tired. I really just wanted to test my nutrition plan for an upcoming Ironman. Just to make sure I didn’t treat this as a normal race, I rode over 80 miles the day before. To my surprise I felt strong on the bike and even stronger on the run. I went 4:07 for a new personal best. Huh? How did that happen? Other races during that season where I reduced the volume, rested and tapered, I was flat. I continued to notice this trend over and over.

Incidentally, one of the reasons I think it’s so important to keep a log is to be able to look back at your training and figure out how your body responds to various protocols. When you have one of those days when you feel strong, it’s important to have some data to analyze and try and figure out why.

It was about this time I started holding my annual Kona Kamp. Nothing more than a way to trick my friends into training big volume with me as I prepared for Ironman Hawaii. What was most notable about this 10 day epic style training was the way people were able to perform on the last day, which was usually the infamous Swami ride in Encinitas followed by a 20 mile run. For those of you not familiar with Swami’s, it’s a 90 mile ride with the likes of Jurgan Zack and Norm Stadler. I typically rate this ride by how thick the snot is from my nose to my handlebars. It’s usually thick and it’s usually fast to say the least. So to schedule this violent ride at the end of 9 days of hard training is a bit questionable. But, once again, going against conventional wisdom, my body seemed to say “ok, I’m ready! We’ve been doing this for the last 10 days.” and so the taper interrupted theory was born.This year, convinced I was on to something I decided to test my theory at St Croix. Four weeks out from IM Brazil, I figured I could gain a lot of confidence by having a breakthrough race. I didn’t want to sacrifice any training for IMB, so I decided to make St Croix a serious training camp and push my theory to the limit. Details from the race are here, but in a nutshell the total for the 5 days before the race were: Bike 14 hrs, Run 6 hrs, Swim 10k. This included a 90 minute run the day before the race and 112 miles three days before the race. I Felt strong the entire race and had the fastest run split in my ag by over 3 minutes.

Why does it work?

It’s all about Consistency! I believe the body adapts and it adapts quickly. After several weeks of any particular training (in this case rather high volume training), you’ll physically and mentally adapt to the workload. Even though you might feel a little tired, once you start a session and get warmed up, you feel good. This of course assumes you’re training in the right training zones. Most of my training is done at IM race effort, which isn’t really that hard. So why disturb the rhythm of the training. Keep it going…right up to the race.

We’ve all been told that in order to race well you have to taper. But not everyone trains the same way so why should everyone taper the same way? I really struggled for a while trying to figure out why all my training races were significantly better than my training races, but ultimately I figured out that when I rest or reduce my volume I feel tired and sluggish, and the more I train, the better I feel. I understand the importance of recovery and getting rest throughout the training cycle, but I make sure my rest is scheduled well in advance of hard workouts or races. As a hard training session or race approaches I build my volume to get ready. It’s very race specific training and prepares you for what lies ahead.

Ironman is just another training day and nothing magical is going to happen just because it’s race day. I’ve noticed that many people think that something special is going to happen. I recommend you go into your next race just as you would go into a big training session, the results might just surprise you too.


Mitch Gold

Mitch has 10 years of coaching experience and has worked with over 100 triathletes to build the outstanding reputation of Counterpart Coaching. Mitch is a 13x Kona Qualifier, 2x Top-100 Kona finisher and 2x Hawaii Ironman Armed Forces Champion with a personal best of 4:07 for the 1/2 IM and 9:33 for IM. He has been named All American by both Inside Triathlon magazine and USA Triathlon. Mitch has a unique teaching style of coaching that keeps his athletes learning, progressing and achieving their goals.


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