It’s the home stretch ladies! You’ve worked hard all summer. You did the workouts, put the mileage in, pushed through some aches and pains, and now race day is less than six week away. Now it’s time to make all of that hard work pay off by making sure you implement the correct “peaking” strategy over the next six weeks.
Success in any athletic event is about being in the best shape on the day of a game or competition. Peaking and tapering strategies are highly refined with higher-level athletes to ensure they compete to the best of their capabilities on game day. Similar strategies can be adopted for you, even if you’re not an elite athlete. Implement the right peaking plan, and you’ll be sure to get the most out of all of your hard work this summer. Fail to implement the right plan, and you can undo a lot of the positive work you’ve done by the time race day rolls around.
Follow these five easy steps and you’ll be properly peaked come race day:
1) Don’t try anything new right now.
This means anything. No new forms of exercise, cross-training, eating, and so on. Less than six weeks out from a race is NOT the time to try something new, even if you think it could help. Stay the course with what’s gotten you to this point. There’s much greater risk associated with making a change at the 11th hour than there is with sticking with your current plan.
2) Make sure you’re eating.
This is not the time for a calorie deficit. Be sure you’re taking in enough calories to maintain your current weight (weigh yourself weekly to be sure). If you’re losing weight, increase calories a little bit (300-500/day) to ensure you’re meeting your energy needs. Also, focus on getting in a minimum of 275g of carbohydrates/day. Carbs are the essential fuel for higher intensity aerobic activity (like a half marathon), and you need to keep your body’s gas tank (muscle carbohydrate stores) topped off. Higher carb and lower fat is the best way to prepare your body’s engine to run efficiently on race day.
This sounds simple, but it’s often overlooked. Adequate sleep (7-8hours per night) allows for a more pronounced nocturnal growth hormone secretion. This increased GH release (along with other factors associated with better sleep) speeds up recovery, repairs damaged tissue, and gives your central nervous system a much needed break in order to be fully recovered for the race.
4) Peak, just don’t taper.
People misunderstand tapering all the time. The concept of tapering is simple: you’ve beat yourself up a little more than what your body can handle during training (we call this “overreaching”), and it needs time to recover prior to race day. Once recovery happens, sharp increases in performance are seen. The harder the training (higher volume or speed), the more important the taper. So if you’ve killed yourself during prep with mileage (consistently above 30/week) or speed (running at or near max pace), then you need a good 14-20 day taper where you reduce training volume by 10-15% per week during the tapering period. That said, if you haven’t really pushed your speed or volume, you probably don’t need a big taper. If you’ve done a moderate-to-low volume/intensity prep, you don’t need much longer than 7-10 days (max) to taper where you cut your mileage a max of 15%. If you take any longer than that (or cut your mileage by more), you will certainly taper your training, but you’ll do so in a fashion that results in detraining, not peaking. This means a slower race time.
5) Run less, but faster.
As you approach your tapering period, where you’re reducing your running volume, you have to run faster to maintain fitness. There is always an inverse relationship between volume and intensity with exercise, even if you’re tapering. In order to peak your ability on race day, run less to recover, but run a little faster to ensure aerobic fitness is maintained.
Now you have your peaking and tapering strategy in place. Train hard, train fast, and train focused these next six weeks. Although your long journey is almost complete, you’ve just reached the most important point!
Micheal Stack BS CPS CFP CSCS USAW: President and CEO
Michael is an Exercise Physiologist & President of Applied Fitness Solutions, an Ann Arbor, MI-based fitness, weight management, & performance enhancement facility. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology from the University of Michigan and is currently a Masters of Exercise Science Candidate at Oakland University. Michael was employed by Bally Total Fitness for seven years as a Master Personal Trainer, where he earned numerous distinctions and awards as one of the top personal trainers in the organization…[Read More]