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The 360-Degree Taper

Posted by Patrick McCrann on Apr 30, 2010 2:17:38 PM

Where I'd Rather Be....
Creative Commons License photo credit: WisDoc

Here’s a simple exercise. Add up all the hours you trained in your biggest week and then divide that by the total number of hours in the entire week (168). The results should be humbling. Even a massive 24 hours of training in a single week is only 14.2% of that week. In other words, you spend 85% of your time doing stuff other than exercise.


Almost every training plan or coach I know includes a taper before the big event. The goal is to recover, absorb fitness, and prepare for a day of super-performance. If all goes well, the athlete will be able to perform at or just above the ability demonstrated in training. But if all we do is cut back on your training load and manage your intensity…ignoring the other 85% of your life…exactly how effective do you think that taper protocol will be?


It’s Not Just About the Training
From my experience working with athletes, the pre-race period is rife with additional stressors not present in daily life. There’s upcoming travel to the event and the logistics associated with family and equipment. There’s the challenges associated with walking away from our work and personal lives for a few days. There’s the pressure of performance, equally as heavy whether you are a paid professional or a committed age grouper. And let’s not forget the fact that you actually need to race!


Here are a few tips on how I counsel people to manage the taper period. Take what you can use, ignore the rest, and add your own tips via the comments below…thanks!


The Travel Schedule

Summary: Getting to your event, equipment and family and self intact, is in and of itself an amazing feat. Really. The number of potential roadblocks — from packing to security to food to sleep to directions to money — far outnumber the forces operating on your side. The event itself aside, this is quite possibly the biggest stressor in your season.


Advice: Narrow your focus down to what critically matters. Empower and/or eqiup those traveling with you to take charge of their own situation, and do as much before you leave the house as possible:


  1. Do all your critical pre-trip shopping for last-minute gear and travel food the weekend before your race, so you can eliminate last minute dashes to the store.
  2. Pack your equipment about 24 hours before you need it, giving you time to shop / fix any last minute issues so you can travel worry free.
  3. Print your travel itinerary, final directions, and any other key logistical information. Then keep it in a manilla folder with your name on it; or better yet put it on your smart phone (thanks, evernote).


The Work Strategy

Summary: Fresh off the sting of you leaving for training vacations, your envious colleagues now have to deal with another absence. Better yet, you are only racing for a few hours but need to leave for five days…that’s just not fair! And let’s not forget anxious clients and the inevitable project that just won’t go away. It’s a wonder you’ll be able to do the race without an earpiece in!


Advice: Set expectations as early as possible regarding the importance of your event and what you’ll need to do. This includes for your boss as well as your colleagues; leave no one out of the loop.


  1. Give your contact info to those who need it, but stress that your availability is limited.
  2. Set an autoresponder and/or voicemail that leaves explicit instructions on how folks can reach others in your absence who can solve their problem(s).
  3. Do everyone a favor and don’t leave anything until the last minute. At the very least leave everything with a next action step and a date for when you will get to it (upon your return).
  4. Really do your best to get away. It’s actually good for you and your team, and you can repay the favor when someone else in the office is chasing a valued personal goal (reciprocity rules!).


Great Expectations

Summary: Your harshest critic; your toughest training partner; your arch enemy (at times)…these people all have one thing in common: YOU. The time and energy and money that goes into a proper training cycle for a big event are the “big three” — the things that conspire to put inordinate pressure on you pre-race. Succumb to their pull and risk blowing things before you even start.


Advice: Maintain perspective. This is a hobby. You do this sport for fun; you aren’t getting paid for it! I am not saying don’t try hard, just avoid totally geeking out. After days / weeks / months of doing what you love daily…most likely early, alone and in the dark…you now get to celebrate your passion by competing with hundreds and thousands of other folks just like you. It’s not pressure, this is a party!


  1. Know that the only person who really cares how you do is you. Your friends and family just want you to be safe and happy. You owe them that.
  2. Keep a smile on your face all day; you are blessed to be physically and financially able to compete this event. There are many others who couldn’t even dream of being in your shoes their lives are so hard.
  3. Focs externally on the other folks during your week, saying hi to the other athletes and thanking the volunteers and local establishments who make your event possible. It will keep the good karma flowing and keep you in check.
  4. The only time that matters is what the clock says at the end of the day. There will be challenges throughout your endurance day, it’s what’s supposed to happen! You ability to handle them quickly and effectively will ensure you spend less time on the course and get to the finish line faster.


About Those Workouts

Summary: The entire goal of a taper period for an endurance event can be boiled down to this: getting you rested and ready to race. There really isn’t any “peaking” or last-minute speed gains to speak of…that’s for this super-short, high end events. For most of us, the taper exists to facilitate the absorption of the work we have done and to keep us sane before the event.


Advice: Stop looking for magical workouts; the “work” is officially done. Instead focus on being rested and relaxed; ask yourself daily if you have achieved both, and if not, if your workout will help you towards either goal. If not, then just chill out!


  1. Have a schedule in place, but check in with your body daily to see if the workout is the right thing to do.
  2. Be extra vigilant. Riding through your town while your brain is off envisioning your race is a very, very bad place to be. Safety is number one.
  3. Focus on race set up (especially if you have new gear related to the race) and form/technique. These things are conduits for your fitness. Don’t be one of those folks who has a fantastic “engine” ready for race day, but doesn’t have the right “wheels” to make the work happen.
  4. No one has ever said, man, I was just too rested and ready to race today. Strive to be that person.

As always, I just wanted to thank you for subscribing. This blog is a success because of you and your support. Here’s to your fitness!


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Thank you so much!

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