The Tale of the Peak and the Taper

tapering_white_longsleeve-235454179349627510-product-210So here I am, 3 weeks before the biggest, scariest 7 days I am pretty sure I will ever spend on a bike. I have trained pretty well since late last year, I think, but I have one more crucial hurdle to get over – the dreaded ‘peak week / taper’ combo.

I won’t insult you by explaining these two concepts in much detail (not because I can’t of course…no, definitely not because I can’t), but my guess is that the following might not be too far from the truth:

Peak Week (or month, or whatever): Where you increase your normal workload by an unknown percentage (I am reading ‘up to 20%’ at the moment) and hold that for the pre-determined period of time, e.g. a week. This puts a lot of stress on the body, ‘loads’ you with training and your body, the ever-amazing machine that it is, should do the following once you are done punishing it.

Taper: During the week (or whatever) that you have now between the end of your peak week and your event, your body will recover and then some. This is called ‘super-compensation’. PezCycling just told me that I could reduce my volume by up 60% this week (so let’s say 10 hours instead of 16) but keep the same amount of intensity (i.e. cut out the base-mile fluff and keep the same number of hours of hard riding as before). Assuming this is what I end up doing, the trick here is to time it all correctly so that the following magically occurs:

1. You train hard enough (but not too much) that the body does actually recover in that week and doesn’t just give up the ghost because you have ‘over-trained’ it (which could take months to get back to normal).

2. Your body pulls that super-compensation just before your event starts and not 5 days before (or worse – 5 days into it!).

Right now I’ve got a stretch of 7 days of over-loading planned, with another 7 days of ‘taper’ (less riding, but not nothing). I am now trying to determine:

a) Is this correct?

b) How big should my ‘big’ days be within the peak week.

c) What the heck should I do during the taper.

Luckily I’ve got the internet and Coach Rob to help, but I thought I’d throw out the question to those who might have done stage races (sorry, one-day races don’t count this time) and how you prepared your last couple of weeks for them. Ex-Haute Route participants are most welcome!

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19 thoughts on “The Tale of the Peak and the Taper

  1. Good luck my friend! I am afraid that I can’t advise you on this very technical training stuff – I just get out there and pedal – so all I can say is hope you get it right. Of course, when the time comes for me to train for something specific and real, I will adopt the same level of focus as you, and then you will be in the wonderful position to advise me properly!

    Seriously, looking forward to reading about the event and I wish you every success and of course STRONG LEGS!

  2. I’ve been intending on reading a bit about the over-compensation and tapering business but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe tomorrow. One of the veloclub members told me to reduce the last 2 weeks as per your suggestion of 60% or so but go easy. All I know is that with temperatures approaching nearly 40C this weekend (and with 2 bonks/dehydrations already under my belt) I may be tapering/overcompensating a lot sooner then I wanted.

    • From what I read last night the prevailing wisdom appears to be at least two weeks of tapering, which would be getting my butt on the bike right now for my big volume week. I don’t think it’ll work that way because of my schedule, though. I think I’ve settled on 6 very full days of intense climbing, then 11 days of short, but hard, rides. At least that’s the plan now. More research is necessary!

      And hey, it’s been 40 down here, too (well, according to my Polar). No excuses up there!

  3. I have no business replying on any of it except to say Bon Courage! And I am sure you will have a brilliant week’s race.

    And,I imagine you won’t have time/energy/focus to post during the week’s race, but am hoping if there are links that we (your faithful readers) can read to get updates and cheer from afar, you will share them with us. Come to think of it, maybe that is a taper week project.

    • Suze, I’m planning on updating daily in some manner or another. Also, there are links on the site (that I’ll post later) that allow you to follow individual riders, I’m pretty sure. Rankings are posted quickly, too. The latest thing in races (Rob’s had this last race) is ‘real time’ results at checkpoints along the route. Live streaming will be next I’m sure!

  4. 1 week of taper G-dog.

    All the below assumes you have trained with the right volume intensity in the 26-52 weeks preceeding.
    Mon Rest day
    Tue Active recovery
    Wed SST 60 mins only with 3 effforts high THR
    Thurs Active recovery
    Fri Rest/Travel
    Saturday 1P race prep session
    Sunday Allez
    Obviously adapt to suit calendar.

    The key will be
    – during event nutrition
    – post ride night nutrition
    – massage/active recovery every night
    – compacts
    – control the HR all day

  5. 1 week of taper G-dog.

    All the below assumes you have trained with the right volume intensity in the 26-52 weeks preceeding.
    Mon Rest day
    Tue Active recovery
    Wed SST 60 mins only with 3 effforts high THR
    Thurs Active recovery
    Fri Rest/Travel
    Saturday 1P race prep session
    Sunday Allez
    Obviously adapt to suit calendar.

    The key will be
    – during event nutrition
    – post ride night nutrition
    – massage/active recovery every night
    – compacts
    – control the HR all day

  6. For HR, you will spend most of your time in between zone 3 and 4, depending on your ability to maintain close to threshold. For this weekend and coming week, I’d focus on doing as many hour zone 3s and 20 min zone 4s you can handle and still be descent the next day. Try to do 3 1 hour tempo rides one day, then try to do 3x20min with 15 rest threshold the other days. You’ll need some long base days in between to recover probably. Emulating maintaining zone 3 as long as possible towards the end of the week will be very similar to what you’ll have to do in HR.

    For the week before HR, reduce volume by 50% and maintain intensity. Do some threshold workouts but instead of doing 20min efforts, do 10-12 mins. You should be able to feel good at the end of the workout to the point where you know you could have done the entire thing again. I’d do a monday threshold session and a wed session then take it super easy thurs-sat (I’m assuming HR starts on a sunday).

    • Rich, thanks for taking the time to respond. This advice is golden. Your point about the question of how close to threshold one can hold onto is something I’ve been thinking about all season, but haven’t really tested yet. I know I can climb Ventoux once in low zone 4, but no idea if I could do it 2 times (approx. equivalent to the ascents on an average HR day). I guess I’ll find out soon enough, but I think the wisest course to take is to work in high zone 3 and try not to blow myself up.

      Thanks again.

      • yeah, I’d say that doing 3 1hr zone 3s as many times as you can during your big training week would be the most important, but I also think increasing your threshold is important, and if you can do 2 good sessions during the week, do it. If you are too tired after the tempo sessions, then just do those. As you say, most of your time during HR will be in that zone.

        For some comparison, on the first climb in l’Etape du tour, I could maintain my threshold almost a full hour, with maybe a 10% reduction on the third or fourth climb of the day. In HR, I was solidly in zone 3 for all the climbs the last 3 days. So this is where you will get the biggest benefit (given we are not all Pros with no day job…).

  7. Gerry: excellent comments above! As you read on my blog, I’ve got my schedule based completely on TSS (Training Stress Score — 100pts = 1hr at your max = like a 1hr time trial). So now I’m scrambling to make my TSS budget but it’s almost OVER! My biggest training week ever (258TSS/day) (and I’ll never do it again 🙂 will end this Sunday and I can’t wait… Next week is still not nothing (189TSS/day) but it progressively tapers down. If you believe the equations, my form is predicted to peak exactly at the start of HR–we’ll see.
    Now how do I fill in the TSS each day? My typical schedule is T & Th hard intensity (yesterday was 6 x 20min; or I do 3 x 20min followed by a whole set of 1 x 1) and Sat hard group ride; the other days are endurance rides. TSS points are gotten by the combination intensity x duration, so now I’m trying to max on intensity so I don’t have to ride 5 hrs :). This morning I could only spend 1:15 before work, so that was the entire time 1 x 1 (painful).
    My feeling is that there are many opinions on how to fill in the training, but the key (hopefully) is to have a sensible plan that uses periodicity and overloads and execute that. I hope the rest will follow. As you said, we will know soon!
    When in doubt: rather now train less than do to much. We’re getting close that the increase in fitness you can achieve is very small, but you surely want to make sure your fatigue tapers away. So: short but intense. I will stick with my routine (3 intense days, 4 endurance), but simply reduce duration. I land on Wed in Geneva so then it’s getting over jetlag and keeping the legs fresh.
    See you soon!

    • Jan, thanks for commenting. Once I focus real hard on all the acronyms and numbers, I think I can grasp a little of what your training is all about!

      It seems everybody is doing their own thing, but we are all concerned with peaking at least. Your schedule this week scares me and I’ll bet you’ll be glad to see the ass-end of it when it’s done. Very eager to see how it all plays out for everyone who has a plan.

      I haven’t changed my program much lately, but I will do a good amount of climbing this weekend (Ventoux this morning, once or twice) and starting next Thursday will do a series of long rides with a bunch of elevation gain (not sure yet, but min 2000m a day, I would think). I doubt there’ll be many TSS points won on intensity, like you, but a 15 km climb can probably do the trick for a few, I’d think.

      I get to Geneva on Thursday evening and am staying at the Warwick Hotel, near the train station. My number is +33 6 45 73 06 04. Would be great to say hi before the fun begins on Sunday!

      • I agree, Gerry: I think it matters less what you do as long as one has a plan, and we all do (having a clear goal like HR was a big difference for me in training goal). I will be staying at Hotel President Wilson (using hotel points of my team mate who travels much :).
        Yes, let’s meet–either for a drink, or a ride on Friday: +1 847 414 2323 or jan@vanmieghem.us
        Today my “last big day”: need to make up for yesterday. Tonight I fly to the east coast to rejoin the family–my bike andHRstuff is already there. Will do hills and fly from Boston to Geneva.

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