Peaking for your top priority event is as much an art as a science. Different athletes respond in different ways to the final taper; and this is where experience and knowing yourself will allow you to craft an effective training schedule over the final weeks before your target race. As you set up your final taper, keep the following principles in mind.
The peak phase covers the last few or more weeks before your target race. The general approach is to decrease volume while maintaining or increasing intensity. The aim here is to sharpen and hone your fitness.
There are two common errors athletes often make when peaking for an event. Some athletes mistake the notion of “tapering” for simply taking time off to rest. Although rest is vital during this (and any) phase, remember that the vacation doesn’t start until after your race. For these athletes, too much time off and too little intensity leaves them feeling stale as they toe the starting line.
Other athletes get nervous about the reduction of volume during their taper and feel they need to do more to stay fit and be ready for race day. These are the ones that sneak in extra intervals or workouts. As a result, they do too much and reach the starting line feeling overly fatigued. Although maintaining some volume and intensity throughout peak training is important, remember that your fitness is already in the bank. This isn’t the time to continue making large deposits; it’s time to begin the withdrawals to buy the freshness and sharpness required for peak performance.
Avoiding these two extremes requires balancing your reduction of volume with your use of intensity. To avoid the problem of too many days off, keep the same frequency of workouts throughout the week; but reduce the duration of those workouts. This reduces the overall volume while allowing you to maintain your familiar routine.
When implementing intensity, reduce the number of intervals you do. Again, this reduces volume. You should leave the workout feeling less fatigued; and should feel yourself getting fresher and more eager to race as the days go on. This surplus of energy can be difficult to harness for some. The temptation is to do more intervals or go harder during a planned tempo or recovery workout. But this is where you need to reign yourself in and save it for the race. Trust in your training and trust in your plan. You will have time to fully test your mettle come race day.
As a general rule, the longer your event, the longer your taper. If you’re racing an ultramarathon, three weeks is a good length for a taper before your A-priority event. If you’re racing a half marathon, you may only need a week or two.