When a novice swim coach – us a few decades ago – first hears and plays with the concept of tapering it seems like such a huge mystery. After all, so much rides on it; or so it appears from all the talk, chatter and surrounding fuss about it: “I cannot wait for taper time” – “when I start my taper all will be right in the swim world” – “I hope I don’t miss my taper” – “I always do well when I taper” – “I can never quite seem to hit my taper” – “Did I do the right amount of taper, or was it too much, or maybe too little?”
This taper thing must be really important since so many outcomes ride on it…or at least that is what the myth perpetuates. Let’s look at the facts for a moment…we hate it when facts get in the way of perception!
When you train (as an athlete) there are really only 3 things you are working on: strength, speed and endurance. You want to build as much of those three qualities into your “game” as possible. Why? Simple…those three pillars are the foundation for athletic success…each athlete needs them in various quantities – depending on her sport – to become better at it. Let’s not overcomplicate things…not really necessary.
(to be sure, there are lots of variables at work in perfecting your game but it is easier to wrap your brain around the issues if you keep things simple)…
In our opinion based upon a certain amount of fact mixed with decades of empirical observation, taper is merely this: the process by which you, the athlete, become confident in your abilities and self-assured enough to risk your all in pursuit of excellence.
You are the master chef. You prepare your recipe with differing amounts of speed work, rest, stroke work; start and turn work, tempo and distance per stroke work…more rest…then some more rest…remember to add in visualization and stretching – sleep and nutrition…basically all the usual stuff. The only thing really missing from your regular diet is huge amounts of work.
And that is what makes taper time so temperamental. Every athlete knows what it feels like to be training “hard.” When you stop “hard” training you feel different. Of course you do – duh.
Enjoy the rest. Anticipate the best is yet to come. Taper allows the work you have done to rise to the top enabling you to perform at new levels of excellence.
By the way remember this: when you go for it, the race will hurt. The only time it doesn’t is when you find flow. Flow puts you in a state where the pain doesn’t matter. Every single time you race your heart rate goes up, your respiration rate increases, you build either oxygen debt or lactic acid or both. Taper doesn’t eliminate those “side effects”. Taper makes accessing your best possible.
When you become skilled at flow you will not be aware of the pain…but it is still there…so make sure you loosen really well after your race.
Oh, did we mention to have fun?