A cyclist having a drink of water on a rural road

Top 10 Tips: How to get workouts, sleep & rest right during the taper to a big event?


Triathletes: it’s race week, and all you can think about is the scene in this picture above… well, there’s more to it than you think!

“I’m deep in training and planning on taking it easy in the taper for an upcoming 70.3. But how much should I be resting and when? How do I go between doing too much exercise and having too much rest – because I really want to do my upcoming A-race as best as I can.”  

- David, who’s trained hard to make good on his next 70.3 triathlon event 
The key to a good taper is understanding the interplay between your body’s cyclical habits, the timings and locations concerning the pre-race schedule, and overall logistics. A typical taper assumes you are aiming on peaking for that one event; the method for tapering for consecutive events (on consecutive weekends) is slightly different and can be adapted to provided the requisite amount of training and conditioning has been put away.

Let’s improve the effectiveness of the winding-down of training with these following ideas:

Tip #1. Short workouts at desired race pace – if you make the workouts short enough that they are easy to complete, then there is a higher chance that you’ll actually do them during taper. Taper is a training program’s way of saying:” OK, you’ve done all the work, now go recover all the way up to race-day before giving it a great big go!” Longer workouts will just slow your body’s super-compensation response.

Tip #2. Short training commitment = shorter taper / long training commitment = longer taper – This principle is confusing as most people won’t readily admit when they got ‘serious about training’, or whether they were really just bumbling through the past few weeks & months leading up to their so-called ‘A-race’. A good training program that is adhered to over several months with minimal disruption will usually warrant a longer taper just because – as a general rule – an athlete needs a longer mental and physiological break.

Tip #3. Schedule more rest than you think you will need – there is no point training harder during the taper. All the fitness has been put into the bank the previous 1-12 months (depending on how long since you committed to doing ‘The Big One’). You stand to benefit more by doing smart workouts with more time given for resting; rather than long, tiring ones with less time to rest that serve no purpose but to fatigue you unnecessarily.

Tip #4. Smart workouts before you travel – go through a final equipment check for each individual discipline on home soil. That means fitting everything (full swimming get-up/fully-equipped bike/loaded running race belt or pack). See how the gear fits and whether it is comfortable for a short burst at your target race-pace. For the bike, make sure the ‘race-spec’ parts (wheels, aerobars, additional storage/hydration systems) are secure and there are no odd sounds or loose bolts. This is especially so AFTER the bike has returned from a major servicing: always ensure your mechanic has done a good job by taking the bike out on the road before packing it.

Tip #5. Smart workouts during travels or upon reaching race destination – always do an easy ride, even if it’s just 10 minutes, after assembling your bicycle. Again, check for odd sounds and ensure all bolts are tight, as ensure shifting, braking, and wheel alignment are in order. For swimming or running, stick to short workouts incorporating drills and warm-up sequences that prime your body for performing in a new environment. This is especially true if traveling to a colder climate from warm and humid Singapore – where things like a wetsuit for swimming or additional layers on the bike/run are needed to stay warm.

Tip #6. The productive tourist-athlete – as mentioned above, there’s nothing more you can do, so you might as well go easy on yourself! Go drive the race route in a rented car or scooter, taking notes and pictures along the way. Take easy strolls along the coast and see how the event crew sets up transition area, or scope out the swim marker buoys being towed into place. Overseas racing means you’re kinda like a tourist – so start acting a bit like one and enjoy!

Tip #7. Eve workouts: short & sharp, and refuel straight after – the day before a big race, just keep your workouts short and acting as a ‘reminder’ of what tempo/pace to hold and where to go (sighting points for a swim leg; navigating on the bike or on foot through an unfamiliar town into and out of transition). Even after throwing in some drills, 15 minutes per sport is going to be plenty. Re-fuel straight after with carbs and electrolytes to keep your stores topped off and your recovery on-going.

Tip #8. Two nights before is prime time for a long sleep – let’s go back 24-36 hours… anecdotally, the NIGHT BEFORE A RACE is not a good time to get a solid block of sleep. This is especially so when early morning event starts (along with the associated early breakfast, logistics, and support crew elements) are the norm, along with pre-race heebie-jeebies or ‘butterflies in the stomach’ that can infiltrate the entire day and night. Sleeping in TWO NIGHTS BEFORE though is much less subject to that kind of disruption, so capitalize on it: a 7-9 hour uninterrupted stretch of deep sleep and an unhurried morning itinerary on the race eve can pay big dividends.

Tip #9. Two days before the race = total rest – this may sound crazy to some people and I do not expect everyone to adhere to this notion, but being A BUM the whole day on ‘the eve of the eve’ of a big race can be a great thing. It is very relaxing, ties in well with most overseas travel plans, and mentally calms one down. There are a bunch of things to do on the eve itself – from when you wake up after that long, well-deserved lie-in, till the time you (try) to catch what little sleep you can that evening – which will see the associated adrenaline and stress levels rise once again, so just roll with it.

Tip #10. Acknowledging and planning for pre-race stress – a little stress is stimulating and helpful for peak performance, but too much stress can run you down and compromise your race. You are just doing the best you can and therefore, the tasks associated with minimizing the damaging kind of stress/fatigue should not be overly stressful or fatiguing themselves. Plan early and give allowances for buffer time and space; be organized with your gear, travel details; and perhaps delegate any support crew you have to help out with last-minute tasks or any contingencies!