We’re less than two weeks out from the race, can you believe it?!?! Now that we’re in the home stretch, it’s time to start talking peaking and tapering strategies to optimize race day performance.
Peaking and tapering can be a very complex area of performance enhancement, and for good reason. Realizing the potential of all the hard work you’ve put in does have a lot to do with how you handle the two to three weeks leading up to the race. Because this is such a critical period of time and true peaking strategies are individualized to the athlete, what follows is a generalized protocol for peaking and tapering. These are the must do’s in order to ensure you’re peaked and taper properly:
In general your volume should peak 2-3 weeks out from your race and begin to slowly ramp downward. Even if you’re reducing your volume by only 10% per week in the 2-3 weeks before your race, you definitely should be running a little less.
Most people realize #1 makes sense, and they do run less, but in order to maintain (let alone, peak) aerobic capacity you must run faster. Simply running less will result in detraining. If you run faster AND less you will be better recovered and begin to peak your speed capacity. Keep in mind, faster doesn’t mean full out sprinting, it simply means running each run a little faster (15-ish seconds/mile).
Don’t cut out strength training
If you’ve followed my advice and incorporated strength training into your routine, you may be tempted to cut it out this close to the race. Be cautious though, if you cut out your strength training too soon, you’ll lose all the great muscular fitness benefits you gained by the time the race gets here. Instead, reduce the volume (total number of sets) and increase the intensity (speed or load), just as you did with running. Your last strength training workout should be the Monday of race week, limit it to 50% of your normal volume (sets) and don’t train to failure.
This is the time to be getting as much sleep as possible. Eight hours per night is great, but whatever amount you can increase your sleep will make a difference. In training less, but training harder; you hopefully can allocate one to two more hours to sleep every night. This will have a profound impact on your recovery and readiness for race day.
Increase your carbs, drop your fat
First, this is not license to go eat bags of skittles. The goal here is to increase healthy carb intake to increase your muscle carbohydrate stores. These stores are your gas tanks, and you want to make sure they’re topped off before you run your race. Eating 2-3 servings of additional healthy carbs (fruit, whole grains, etc.) can help to fill up those gas tanks. Also, reducing your dietary fat intake will begin to shift your body into a better metabolic state for your race. Try limiting all foods higher in fat to better prime your engine for race day.