If there’s one thing Spartans share, it’s intensity — for living a full life, breaking through barriers, and suffering in all the right ways. It’s a personality trait that can make it difficult to pull back on anything, especially training. But in the weeks leading up to a race, a little extra relaxation is critical.
Tapering, or cutting your training load before a competition, can be one of the hardest things to master. Yet it’s the best way to make sure you have a surplus of energy and power at your disposal when you really need it. ”It’s all about having the most amount of fuel in the tank at the time you start the race,” says Jeff Moreno, a California-based kinesiologist and physiologist.
With that, here’s how to plan your next tapering period. Follow this formula and you’ll discover how powerful you really are.
Step 1: Time It Right
Your taper period should last anywhere from one to three weeks, depending on the intensity of the race you’re running. For a Sprint or Stadion race (5K, 20 obstacles), plan on five days to a week. For a Super (10K, 25 obstacles) or Beast (21K, 30 obstacles), give yourself about two weeks. And for an Ultra (50K, 60 obstacles), plan on a full three weeks.
Step 2: Turn Down the Volume
A good rule of thumb: During the taper period, cut your mileage and sets by a third to a half of what you’re used to doing. “What the best coaches and best athletes are finding is that [in high-performing athletes] the volume will decrease, but the quality stays high,” Moreno says.
Step 3: Keep the Intensity Up
The ”quality” that Moreno refers to is about the weight you lift or pace you run: Don’t let either one drop. You’re still trying to keep your muscle memory intact. “I want you to be able to turn your wheels,” Moreno explains. So even though you’re doing less, make sure it’s at the same intensity level you're used to.
Step 4: Sleep In While Tapering
In the weeks preceding race day — and especially during the final week—you want to make sure you’re getting a full rest every night, says Moreno. Take Orla “Vermontster” Walsh. In the weeks leading up to a Super, the full-time night nurse moved across the country and still managed to log a few long shifts. Her mind and body were zapped, and it showed. “I knew almost within the first mile,” she says. “As the race progressed, the hills and the heavy carries, it made it even worse.” She ended up in 21st place in the elite category. It's a fine finish by most standards, but for Walsh, a Spartan Pro Team athlete since 2014, it was far below what she'd expected.
Step 5: Evaluate Your Plan and Adjust
“Tapering is always going to be dependent upon the individual,” says Moreno. So set a plan, follow it strictly, and then give your performance an honest post-race evaluation. Did you feel any soreness during the race? Then next time, increase your taper by a few days. Feeling flat and sluggish? Try shortening your timeline, so that your muscles don't get lazy. Once you hit your taper right, says Moreno, you’ll know.
But what if I’m doing multiple races? Many Spartans choose to race on consecutive weekends, which makes the usual taper strategy difficult to follow. So try this: Use the taper strategy above for the first race, and afterward give yourself a day or two of rest or light activity. Mid-week, put in one moderately intense workout, and then rest again for the next few days. “It’s a seamless flow,” Moreno says.