Pacing the Cage: Making the Most of Your Taper Week

By Will Murray | Aug. 28, 2017, 1:29 p.m. (ET)

stretching

It’s the week before your race and you feel like a caged tiger. While you still have workouts that are short and crisp to stay sharp, your training volume is vastly reduced. All of a sudden you have a lot more time on your hands. How do you make the most of this extra time during your taper period to have your best race day experience?

Training makes you fit; practice makes you fast.

When was the last time you practiced your transitions? Everybody talks about the free speed you can obtain with clean transitions, but that speed only comes with practice. For T2, bike-to-run transition, try this:

  1. Set up a bike trainer and your T2 transition area.
  2. Hop on your bike, yes with your helmet and sunglasses and cycling shoes, ride for two minutes.
  3. Do your transition — changing helmet for ball cap, changing shoes and putting on race belt. Then run 400 meters.
  4. Capture your time for the transition, from the instant you stop pedaling to your first step.
  5. Repeat six to eight transitions until you get your transition time down to less than 10 seconds.

For T1, your swim-to-bike transition:

  1. When you do open water swims, practice running out of the water for 100 meters, then jog back to the water.
  2. Practice your exit of the water five or six times to get the feel of snapping from a horizontal position to vertical and trying to run.
  3. If you can run out of the pool without incurring the (unwanted) attention of the lifeguard, give this a try.
  4. Practice your bike mounts and dismounts at least six or eight times.

“Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra

Your taper week is a great time to practice your mental skills.

  1.  Write out your race plan. On paper (or electrons). Include your pacing plan and your fueling and hydration schedule.
  2. Include mental elements in your race plan. Study the course map and course profile to identify specific locations where you will need extra motivation. For example, at two-thirds of the way through the run course, many athletes lose focus and start dwelling on how tired they feel. You might think of two or three people who you know have your best interest at heart. Think of what they would say to motivate you that would really help lift you. Place them along the course map in your mind’s eye and hear what they would say as you see yourself hitting that point.
  3. Rehearse the race in your mind. For specific instructions on how to do this, read “Two Minutes to a Better Workout.”
  4. Prepare for the worst. Ask yourself, “What could go wrong?” Mentally travel through the race, from setting up your transition area to the finish line, and test for things that might go astray. What if I drop a bottle? Make a plan. What if I start to chafe? Make a plan. Being prepared is the best way to put worry away.

Test your gear.

I recently heard an athlete lament that the electronic shifter battery on his bike died during the race, turning his bike into a single-speed. He had not charged the battery in two months. Don’t be him. Go over your bike carefully or take it to the shop. Especially check your tires and shifters. Lube your chain. Clean up your bike.

Do a dress rehearsal, literally. If you haven’t done a swim in your wetsuit in a while, take it to the pool or open water and swim a little. Do a short bike-run brick in your race kit. Practice placing your anti-chafing remedy. Test the drink that the aid stations will be handing out to get used to the taste.

Plan to sleep.

Make plans to get a good night’s sleep the night before the night before the race. Many athletes have trouble sleeping the night before the race, so if you do find yourself staring at the ceiling, use that time well. During your waking period, rehearse again the race you want to have tomorrow. Make a movie, full color, with sound and scents and sensations, of the race going as well as it can. See yourself having a great race, start to finish. If this doesn’t put you back to sleep, then you will put your mind in the right frame for the next morning.

Taper week gives you a lot more time to focus on those things that will help you have a great day for your race. In addition to pacing like a caged tiger, you can also practice those skills that will make your race day smooth, efficient and fulfilling.

Will Murray is a USA Triathlon Level I Certified Coach and the mental skills coach for d3multisport.com. He is co-author of “The Four Pillars of Triathlon: Vital Mental Conditioning for Endurance Athletes.”

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.