You will complete a full taper for your main race of the season, but for B & C races, you should only complete a mini taper. Often the subject of tapering is misunderstood. The purpose is to allow your body to recovery so you perform well, but your event distance that you’re racing has no bearing on the taper. For example, if your body recovers from it’s fatigued state within 3 days of easy training or rest, then whether you’re racing an Ironman or a sprint event, the taper only needs to be 3 days. Just because you’re racing Ironman, doesn’t mean you need to rest for 2 weeks. The distance is irrelevant, it’s how long your body take to recover that counts.
The purpose of the taper is to allow physiological recovery and also mental recovery, although the 2 are undoubtedly linked. The issue to be aware of is that for people who are completing a regular exercise routine, stepping out of that routine can lead to extreme lethargy. Think about your own experiences, if you miss 3 days of training, how do you feel? It can often cause both physical and mental lethargy, which is not the ideal result.
Here’s some key things to remember:
Stick to the routine, but reduce the volume and intensity. As an example, I’d generally recommend tapering for only 2 days (3 maximum if you’re really tired) before ‘B & C’ events. So if you train normally up until Thursday, you should then reduce training Friday and Saturday, but stick to a ‘routine’. If you normally swim and run on Friday, then do a short / easy swim and a short / easy run, perhaps with a few short sprints, but nothing which would leave you fatigued. You may then choose to do a short bike ride on Saturday and maybe a short run (30 min bike / 5 minute run).
Doing some exercise prevents the physical and mental lethargy that can otherwise occur if you have 2 days of complete rest. Don’t panic, doing some light exercise the day before will not make you feel tired on race day.
You also don’t need to ‘carb load’. Stuffing your face for 2 days, with very little exercise will not help you at all. It’s a myth from the 80’s which still seems to be hanging around!
The most critical part of the taper, is doing your race prep. The first part of racing well is not necessarily tapering, but preparing for the event and the day ahead. Make sure your bike and kit is ready, nutrition (if required) is in hand, you’re aware of the course and have read all the event information. You should also spend some time thinking about how you’re going to race on the day, what’s your strategy or planned pace etc for swim, bike and run.
In the days before your event, you shouldn’t worry about training, you should instead focus on the event. What do you need to do to get the best result possible? Think about past events, things which went well and things which went badly. Your training plan is no more than conditioning, it won’t guarantee good results. There’s plenty of people who train really well and race badly because they make the wrong decisions on race day. That said, it’s questionable whether we can say that they’re ‘making’ the wrong decisions, as anxiety / excitement can lead to people simply not ‘thinking’ at all. Make a few notes, what do you need to do to swim, bike and run optimally? Take the notes with you on race morning, read them and then do it.