Chris Carmichael Blog: Pre-Race or Event Taper Tips

On Sunday, May 15 I will embark on the 2011 CTS Amgen Tour of California Race Experience. We’re going to ride every stage of the Tour of California, and I’ve been working very hard to make sure I’m ready for what I think will be the greatest endurance challenge I’ve tackled in the last 20 years. (La Ruta was extremely hard, but it was only 4 stages, not 8.) This week was all about sharpening the blade. Nothing I could do this week would increase my actual fitness; all that work has already been done. What remained was to strip away the fatigue generated from all that training, so I’m fresh and sharp for the challenge ahead. A lot of people ask about what they should do the week leading into a major goal, and while the optimal pre-race week varies from athlete to athlete, here’s what I did, and why.

Last Sunday (May 8): 4 hour road ride, rolling terrain at a moderate to challenging pace. I intended this ride to be 6 hours, my last big endurance ride before the ATOC, but I cut it short. Why? I listened to my body and the data from my power meter. I didn’t feel very good, it was hot, and my power numbers didn’t correspond well to my perceived exertion (it felt harder than it should have to ride at any given power output). There are times when an athlete needs to push through and finish these long rides, but it’s also important to know when to say “Enough”. A week before the ATOC, pushing through for an additional 2 hours wasn’t going to add anything to my fitness. It was just going to be a frustrating and fatiguing experience.

Monday: Core Strength Workout at CTS, no riding. It was Monday, which is a really busy day for me at CTS, so it’s also a day I frequently take as a rest day from training. All the same, I ended my workday with a 45-minute core strength workout because it’s a routine that I’ve grown to enjoy. It doesn’t add too much fatigue, and this week I really didn’t push myself too much; I just did it to keep up the routine and get a little exercise at the end of the day.

Tuesday: 90 minutes Recovery/Endurance Ride. This was an easy ride, not entirely recovery spinning but also nothing challenging. Let’s put it this way – I never reached an intensity where I couldn’t speak an entire sentence comfortably.

Wednesday: No riding. Complete Rest Day. For some athletes, not riding strenuously between Sunday and Wednesday drives them batty. But this is where your confidence in your preparation is put to the test. If you’re not confident, you’ll be anxious to go out and test yourself day after day. But when you’re confident in your preparation, you’re comfortable giving yourself more rest. I knew I was planning on doing some hard efforts on Thursday, and I rested today to help ensure that Thursday’s efforts were of a higher quality and power output.

Thursday: 90 minutes on the bike with 2 maximal efforts (1:30 at 421 watts, 1:00 at 487 watts) up a steep hill near my home, followed by a 25-minute climb at about 250-260 watts (challenging pace, but under lactate threshold). The purpose of this ride was to “prime the pump” and activate the energy systems necessary for higher power outputs. The efforts didn’t generate enough training stimulus to lead to adaptations, but that wasn’t the point. They overall workload from the ride was purposely low so they it generate much in the way of fatigue.

Friday: Easy spin for about 60-70 minutes through rolling hills. This was just an easy ride, and what you’re looking for on this ride is the urge to jump up a hill or rocket out of a corner. That’s your brain telling you it’s ready and eager for you to “let the horses run”. That’s just what I felt like, and that’s a good sign.

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Saturday: Today I’m not going to ride. This is partly because I’m going to be away from my wife and children for a week and I want to spend time with them before I leave. It’s also because I don’t think I need to ride today. Some athletes don’t like the feeling of going into a competition or a big ride right after a day of no riding. That’s just something you need to determine for yourself. For me, I know it won’t make any difference if I spin easy today or not, so I’m not. CTS Coach and “The Time-Crunched Cyclist” co-author Jim Rutberg, however, always rides better on big rides if he can go out and spin for an hour the day before. If it’s going to be a race or a fast group ride, he’ll also include 3-5 downhill sprints or some other short (20-seconds) hard efforts.

So that’s it. I’m ready to go and excited to get rolling. Throughout the Amgen Tour of California, check for updates, photos, and videos from the road; as well as my Twitter feed ( and the CTS News Twitter feed (

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach
Carmichael Training Systems

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