Taper Reflects Training and the Athlete (with a State Record Example)

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This week I was having a conversation on the phone about bleed runs with a fellow coach. We were talking options, coaching, and average velocities of the runs (% of max) and I told him about a bleed run session I had an athlete do 7 days out from the state championship, the day after a divisional state meet and he was aghast. This is certainly not typical in a taper or normal training setups, but this wasn’t a a typical taper from neat normal training. The taper has to reflect previous training and the needs and state of the athlete in the taper.

It’s irresponsible and irrelevant to isolate tapers and taper prescriptions from the training that precedes them. A taper works not because of some magical workouts, but the right unloading, while stimulating needed qualities (it’s important to understand what qualities detrain the fastest and what the recovery curve from certain types of work is for the individual athlete). Balancing stimulation while clearing fatigue, and assuring high event skill for the athlete to be at their physiological, psychological, and competitive peak is the goal of a good taper.

Just as there is individualization in training there too must be in the taper. 10 day or two week tapers are a popular concept, and neat tapers after a long solid macrocycle are ideal and nice to talk about. However, very rarely is training ideal and the taper and how you do it better account for what came before it (the good, the bad, and the ugly). When I look back at training records for the most successful athlete tapers I’ve coached, they all reflect how the athlete flowed in training proceeding the taper and usually included a few intuitive changes based on what I saw in the taper and learned in previous training with the athlete and periods of unloading.

Generally I drop volume and keep intensity up and frequency roughly the same (looking at my records I often add a recovery or rest day as training leading into a taper is usually of higher quality and or volume than work any other time in the year. Regardless it’s important to understand what the athlete is adapted to in training, thrives on, and maintaining close to that flow is one of the keys of successful tapers.Here is a real world example of a non-traditional taper from a tough situation that resulted in a state record.

We will look at her last two weeks leading up to key meet and while knowing the complete training history and circumstances is way beyond the scope of a blog we’ll review those a bit as well.

This was an athlete I coached in the summer and fall leading into her high school season and got reinvolved with in the spring as she was struggling with nagging injuries. She took two weeks off after indoors to heal an injury (I still wasn’t involved even in an advisory capacity in regards to training at this point) and then went outdoors into a very demanding schedule (her conference has two duel meets a week, plus the occasional invitational on the weekend and she is asked to do 2 events and a jump at meets). Outdoors she evolved into working around the chronic injury unable to much training and surviving meets (before her last month we talked it out and got her to agree with coaches to stop hurdle races and jumps except for conference championship and the state meets mentioned below. She wanted to keep her season alive and felt under conditioned (SE), but knew she was very good, but not in quite enough special endurance shape and not healthy. I wasn’t going to be in control of many of the workouts, but could help refine things here and there to try to help her out.

2 weeks out Monday– school workout

3x2x200 over 5 hurdles first and second half race 5mins between all reps slightly below goal race pace-soft tissue therapy post

Tuesday

Recovery bike 20mins of work- my script due to trauma from previous session at school workout and experience with this modality as alternative means in the past

Wednesday-school workout

-4x starts over 2 hurdles with solid rest

Thursday– school workout –

premeet with good warm-up and a few low key builds

Friday Divisional State meet-

1 event only and somewhat disappointing time as she had no competition (won by 5 seconds) and felt a little flat. She texted me after the race that she didn’t really feel like it took much out of her like she hadn’t raced. She’s a competitor and when she couldn’t even here footsteps behind her and people breathing at the 200 mark she still tried to max it out going home, but she’s the type that needs competition.

Tweak – As her conditioning was lacking and school practice was Monday-Friday I had scripted her bleed runs on Saturday the two weeks prior as we were playing catch up on Speed/Special endurance and support qualities (and with the off day Sunday the high intensity work to end the week could be cleaned up on Sunday; getting away from hurdles and jumps also allowed for her to bring up conditioning in the month of May as she could do more run workouts overall and less alternate means to survive).

Getting back to the divisional meet she felt like she hadn’t run a big race (submax race and the girl is used to 3 events) so I actually gave her bleed runs on Saturday less than 24 hours after the divisional state meet and 7 days out from biggest race of the year.

This is certainly non-traditional and only did this as I knew she needed more training (lots of adaptability left in SE2 as she hadn’t got to train a ton indoors or outdoors battling nagging injuries, She needed to train not just unload). Additionally, we had a very good relationship communicating how she felt after sessions from the fall and were often able to make adjustments so we made a big one here.

Saturday 7 days out -non-school practice in flats

4-6×250 @ 90s rest She did 5 with times of 37 40 38 40 39 and she was a girl who could turn it up more in meets so this was great work if you look at average velocities.

Sunday off and a lot of soft tissue therapy

Tweak

Monday

bike tempo 20x30s on30s off; aggressive therapy from Sunday, plus fatigue from Friday Saturday back to back and easy day Monday gets her back to her back to alternating high and low going into the meet (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday)

Tweak

Tuesday– coach did not show up to school practice so I helped her out. Changed workout

2x2x200 (similar theme) on the flat no hurdles (very solid hurdler at that point and with impromptu practice, we didn’t even have access to a full set of hurdles). I also made rest periods 3-4mins between reps and 8-10mins between sets. She needed velocity in SE and special endurance work and coaching in running mechanics as they had deterioted a lot from the fall so I wanted faster runs that bled together a bit, but coordination was still high and then rest so we could go quality again. We ran it in flats to control speed a tip (she usually trained in flats with me anyway) and flats also helped make sure any degree of almost over speed would not bomb her out 4 days out. First rep was terrible almost a 30s 200 that was army and with butt-out posture. Cued fast hands and tall hips/hips under and the home half was 29. Second set first rep she looked awesome. Ran a controlled 27s first 200 (legs had much better stiffness not just technical changes) and did home half rep in the 28-29s range on the second rep of set.

Wednesday

recovery jog 15mins (she had been doing these so I wasn’t going to rock the boat too much and keep the rhythm – lighter therapy

Thursday-school workout

4x over 2 hurdles in spikes (felt much better and approach to first hurdle ended up naturally dropping a step as speed was up) checkup therapy

Friday

warm-up low key builds

Tweak for Saturday – watching SE work on Tuesday made it clear to me that she needed a big warm-up with hot CNS stim pre for both tone (therapy) and because just that’s what she was used to (you do 3 events 2-3x per week for 4 years just warming up and running a race isn’t what her body was accustomed to). I’ve always found this in high school when kids that are multi-eventers drop to a single race or event. Certain kids are going to need more stim in warm-up or will be fresh, but flat. Told her to get in warm-up with full builds sprints etc.. as normal and then being a state meet (track access not a given) try to get in 2×100-120 pretty much full blast and full rest pre-event. I also wanted this in the warm-up as in her state they’ll sit kids down for 20mins sometimes before a race on the infield and people get stale.

Saturday Championship meet

She did warm-up as suggested with her builds and also got in 2×100 on the track and fast and also managed to steal a few brief accels while waiting around pre-race in clerking (cns stim and tone). Race plan was to get out fast as she was outside of favorite and spooking someone when they don’t expect it from your seed time can throw off hurdle rhythm. Awesome start to hurdle 1, settled in and ran a State record and won State Championship.

Matt Gardner
As a track and field coach Matt has produced school record holders and state champions in the sprints, hurdles, jumps and middle distance events. He has coached athletes from a wide variety of sports including Professional Football, World Cup bobsleigh, Swimming, Track and Field, Olympic Weightlifting, Baseball, Tennis, and Golf. Matt has extensive experience consulting and collaborating with high level sports medicine professionals to help rehabilitate injured athletes and optimize the performances of healthy ones.
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