Pic: Fuertaventura training camp with the family
“Revving up the engine before releasing the clutch..!”
This particular topic has been sitting in the back of my mind for a while but I guess now is the right time to write something about it. ÖtillÖ Hvar swimrun is less than a month away so now it’s more important than ever to work your way towards the startline.
Coaches and sport scientists have many different views and theories about how to taper and peak on race day. Sport scientists primarily analyse data and the “cold” (physical) aspects of “training impact”. Coaches on the other hand take into account the psychological and mental aspects of how their athletes respond to “changes in training routine”. Everybody responds differently to change in general whether it is sport, environment, food, people, news, etc. So as far as swimrunning is concerned small or big changes in training volume, intensity and density can have a positive or negative impact. As for me, under normal circumstances I don’t tend to make big changes to my training routine but it all depends….if I feel sick than I definitely back off and rest. For instance I have had cases in the past where I had a really good build-up phase leading up to race day and then in the final week I got sick…..it’s the most frustrating thing ever! I discovered that one way to prevent this is to take it easy for 1 or 2 days somewhere in the 3 to 2 weeks leading up to race day as it will allow your body to deal with any flue like symptoms that are often suppressed deep inside the body and only come out when you rest more than 24 hours. Call it a “flue taper check” it has worked several times for me especially when the first race is still close to winter weather. The other reason why I don’t make big changes to my training routine (up until the last week) is not because it’s physically better for me but more because it’s mentally easier to deal with. In fact I could possibly get more out of my tapering period if it wouldn’t be so damn tough for me to cut back training volume and intensity. I am sure you agree that it’s all about having trust in your own (and your partner’s) capabilities. For what it’s worth below you will find my top three pick’s for a “power peak” in order to release all that “energy, (inner) strength and (team) harmony”.
#1 Staying healthy and injury free is on the top of my list. Just to illustrate my point, Elvin (our son) goes to day care three days a week so it means that we get a fresh dose of viruses and bacteria every other day… It’s a constant battle to get rid of these little bugs especially when your immune system is already taking a beating from the training you have put in and in our case lack of sunlight. So, we tend to “overdose” ourselves with raw ginger/apple juice and literally litres of ginger/honey/lemon tea. Even if only half the stuff they write about ginger is true it’s a no-brainer….eat it, drink it, squeeze it, spice it…..anything goes! The risk of injury goes up the weeks prior to race day because the focus is now more on “revving up the engine” rather than “driving long distance on cruise control”. As a consequence if your “engine is cold and you hit the gas it’s not that hard to break something”. In other words without a proper warm-up or lack of focus it’s quite easy to pull a muscle when doing more intense paced work-outs. Remember that you are deviating from your training routine so you need to be careful not to hurt yourself as there is less time to recover from it so close to race day. Therefore, focus on a quality warm-up (i.e. take your time), spoil yourself with a sports massage once or twice before race day (but not in the last week!). Last but not least (being an old stiff fart and a bit lazy) stretch and foam roll more often in the last 3 to 2 weeks before race day (but not too much in the last week!). It’s my desperate attempt to improve and optimise your range of motion.
#2 Focus more on recovery and NOT purely on training itself (3-2 weeks before race day)
How much to cut back in volume is really up to you and something you have to judge day by day. Same for intensity: run and swim at race pace in this final period for some of your work-outs but carefully listen to your body and ease off if you feel that you recover too slowly. It means that you’re eating into your reserves which is something you want to avoid at this point. Key is to focus on recovery and the trick is to do just enough not to lose aerobic capacity while allowing your body and mind to fully recover from ALL the base and build-up training hours you have put in over the last months. I tend to stick to two work-outs per day 3 to 2 weeks leading up to race day but I do put in more rest days if I still feel tired after a specific work-out. I tend to think differently during the tapering phase….rather than focusing on pushing myself to get to a certain distance, HR or pace I constantly think about how long it will actually take me to fully recover from the work-out I am doing, bearing in mind that my body has already started the critical process of overcompensation which you should not jeapardise. All you can really do in the final 3 to 2 weeks is tease your body here and there to remind it what race pace feels like but nothing really more intense than that. In other words it’s too late to start working on your shape in the final build-up to race day. In this respect I like Jasmina’s mantra. She always says: “I prefer to start a race feeling 95% fit but mentally rested instead of desperately trying to be 100% fit but feeling mentally exhausted and physically fatigued. Not surprisingly her tapering period is even more focused on rest and recovery than mine…to the extent that I sometimes wonder “what has she done in the last weeks?”. I can’t figure this girl out! Perhaps the best way to describe her is to use a quote from Forrest Gump: “Jasmina is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re going to get”... Moving on: our last long and tough work-out is normally latest two weeks out from race day. It’s not fast but it’s still consuming to the extent that we take extra care to fully recover it.
#3 In the last week; rest, enjoy the race location, meet friends alike and get mentally ready. Focus is on arriving early (test the water and terrain), select / check and fine tuning gear, visit the start and finish sections of the course (if possible), build mental strength as a team (this to me means: lots of hugs, kisses and so on), swim a bit every day, run a bit at conversational speed with some speed bursts but stay off your feet the day before the race, hydrate well, carbo load and you guessed it….sleep a lot! Don’t stretch and foam roll too much in the last week because you want your muscles to feel a bit “springy and not like two pieces of overcooked spaghetti”…
On a side note….the most annoying thing for me is the fact that in the last few days every day can feel totally different….it’s completely normal but still rationally it does not make any sense…….One day I can feel sluggish, drowsy and without any energy, then I wake up the following day and all I want to do is sprint up and down the main street for an hour… It requires a lot of self control and confidence not to give in to these random feelings. It’s all part of the process. I constantly have to remind myself that the work is done and that my body is ready to go, so I say to myself…. “put your mind in first gear, rev up the engine but only release the clutch when the gun goes off”. For me, the start of any important swimrun race is hard to describe….it’s the moment where “the journey ends” but “the race begins”. It’s the moment where I am truly in peace with the situation and beyond the point of no return. Sounds weird no? Ah well, everybody is different. Hope to see you all out there to share the start of a brand new swimrun season!
Me: Thomas Schreven
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