The hardest part about training for a week-long ride such as the Empire State Ride is to know when it’s time to back off on training. Many new athletes mistakenly feel as if they need to ride long and hard up until the last day possible. The opposite is true. You want to start the ride fresh and raring to go. The best way to do that is to give your body time to recover from your efforts up to now; this is known as a taper.
Tapers will vary in length depending upon your fitness and what type of event you are doing. However, in general, giving your body a week or two of recovery is sufficient for a multi-day tour. After all, it’s not a race, so you won’t be stressing your anaerobic system to the max daily.
The basic premise of a taper is to maintain your fitness while losing your fatigue. The simplest formula for this is to keep the same number of weekly rides, but reduce their length. For example, if you usually do two 120-minute rides each week, these may be reduced to 90 or even 60 minutes. Your total ride hours should be about half of what they usually are. The goal is to recover enough so that when the ride begins in New York City, you really want to ride.
In addition to reducing overall training hours, there is evidence that increasing your intensity during these shorter sessions maintains fitness, while decreasing intensity may decrease fitness. While you don’t need to ride in sprint mode, be sure to put a little extra effort into hill repeats or intervals. Listen to your body while you do harder efforts and back off if you feel fatigued. You will not increase fitness by working yourself to total fatigue a week before your ride.
It is far better to feel under-trained, than to feel over-trained. Over-training leads to many side effects and can leave you prone to injury. Irritability, soreness and sleeplessness are not things you want to invite on your ride. Take each day during the ride one at a time and you’ll find that you finish the week stronger than you began.
During this taper period it is also a good idea to maintain a clean diet. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and be sure to drink enough water. Add in lean protein and whole grain carbohydrates to provide balanced nutrition.
There is always talk of “carbo-loading” before an event. But, the truth is if you eat well in the days leading up to the start, you don’t need any additional carbohydrates. Plus, with a multi-day event, you will get enough carbohydrates with meals each day. Just remember that now is not the time to try to lose that extra three pounds. Eat as you normally would, but remember that because your training volume has been cut, you won’t want to splurge on that extra cookie or ice cream sundae this week. Save those sweets for the finish line in Niagara Falls!