10. How to Peak and Taper the Right Way
Catching up on the Mount Rainier 11-Day Planning Challenge? Find all the posts here.
Wow. I can’t believe we are on the second-to-last post of this series.
It’s been a bit of a marathon on my end. The cat is wondering why he hasn’t been fed. The recycling bin is towering high and threatening to avalanche across the kitchen. And I am so far behind on laundry, I’m down to my last pair of (non-fancy-thongy) underwear.
(You can view the behind-the-scenes chaos for yourself in this Facebook Live.)
But I’ve been having so much fun making this series for you, it’s all more than worth it.
And if you’ve come this far with me, I know you are super stoked about getting your ass on top of Mt. Rainier! So double high fives. You’re clearly a #peakboss who can #kickassatlife.
So today’s post is one you probably won’t actually need for awhile. But it’s about an important part of training that a lot of athletes screw up.
Yeah, I’m talking about peaking and tapering.
These are two things that happen at the end of your training period right before your climb.
Basically, about 1–3 weeks before you leave for Seattle, you’re going to hit your training “peak.” This comes at the end of your hardest training phase.
A lot of people talk about “peak week,” which is your last and hardest training week. But I’d actually think of it as your final training cycle. Those last few weeks of workouts are pushing you toward peak performance, so really give them your all.
Then, once you hit your peak, you taper. That’s a fancy word for dramatically slashing your training volume so you can take a rest before the main event.
Now that might sound counterintuitive. (Why do all this training just to slack at the last minute?) But remember, rest makes you strong.
By following a big stress period (the peak) with a big rest period (the taper), you give your body a chance to recover, then get even stronger.
If you do this right, you’ll climb Mt. Rainier while your system is what we call “supercompensated.” You will be at your peak performance of the entire training season. It’s a state you can’t get into just by working out as usual.
The Biggest Mistake People Make During Tapering
So reading this a few months out, you’re probably all, “Yeah, baby. Bring on the supercompensation!”
But you wouldn’t believe how many people peak at the end of training — and then can’t quite bring themselves to do a proper taper.
Slowing down feels terrifying after putting in all that work. So they just keep pushing and go to the mountain tired.
Believe me, I get it. Through my entire running and climbing career, I’ve always struggled psychologically to taper for more than a week. Even when I knew intellectually that two would be better.
So let me tell you about some crazy events that set me straight.
In Oct. 2017, I was supposed to fly to Bolivia to climb a 19er. I was feeling a little beat up by the long training season, so I actually did a proper two-week taper for once.
Then Hurricane Irma hit Miami, and our flights were bumped three days. Right away, I started freaking out. Oh, crap, I tapered too soon! I went out and did a long run.
Then we got bumped another three days. We weren’t actually supposed to climb anything until about a week after getting to Bolivia. So now I was effectively looking at a 4-week taper. The horror! I was pretty sure my trip was scuttled.
So we finally flew to Bolivia and spent a few days in La Paz breathing in the thin air. We took a few day hikes around Lake Titicaca, but nothing major.
So imagine my shock when on the first summit day, I actually felt light and full of energy. Climbing to 17,300 ft. on a 4-week taper was way easier and more enjoyable than climbing Mt. Rainier (14,411 ft.) with a 1-week taper.
Now a 4-week taper is probably a bit excessive unless you’re an elite athlete with an extended training season. But if you’re not sure how much to taper, err on the long side! (I sure will from now on.)
How to Structure Your Taper Period Workouts
For mountaineering, I adapt the same protocol my coach always TRIED to get me to follow for distance running:
- Week 1: Decrease your weekly training volume to about 50 percent of your peak weekly volume. Include 1–2 strength sessions and one long aerobic workout. Carry a low–medium amount of weight on any hikes.
- Week 2: Presumably, you will be traveling to Seattle during this week. Try to grab one last strength workout (keep it easy) and one last aerobic session of 50–70 minutes. If you hike, keep your pack light.
What to Do With All That Free Time
A lot of athletes get a little stir crazy during the taper. You might be tempted to go for a walk or hit a yoga class. But try instead to focus on resting.
Case in point: a few years back, I did the Great Wall Marathon with some friends. We went to Beijing, and all of us totally wrecked our tapers by walking around The Forbidden City the day before the race.
Lesson learned: save the sightseeing for after the main event! (You’ll even get some recovery benefits as you work the lactic acid out of those sore legs.)
One of the great things about taper week is that you’ll have some extra time to pack and take care of last minute trip details. I like to keep a running list of tasks for taper week — stuff like going to the bank, last-minute shopping, patching a hole in my pack, and so on.
Some Tips for the Final Countdown
And then you’re off to the mountain! (Isn’t that crazy to think about?) Here are some last minute tips to help you arrive in Seattle healthy and stoked.
- Watch your water intake, especially if you have a long flight. Staying hydrated will help to improve your performance and function better at altitude.
- Get plenty of sleep in the week leading up to the climb. You may get very little on the mountain, especially if you are going to push for the summit the same day you arrive at high camp.
- If you’re coming from East or Central time, you might experience a bit of jet lag. To prevent this, try shifting your sleep schedule to get on Pacific Time.
- Traveling can be stressful on your body and mind, so don’t feel like you need to cram in training sessions. There’s nothing you can really do to improve your performance a few days before the climb — and quite a bit you can do to hurt it.
- Acknowledge feelings of stress and anxiety. They’re totally normal. If you feel yourself getting really worked up, it’s time for self care. Meditate. Talk honestly to a friend.
- Also, remember that excitement is the flip side of anxiety. Think about how amazing it’s going to be to see a crevasse for the first time and sleep on a glacier. Find ways to be playful and have fun during the homestretch.
OK, we just talked about the day before you climb Mt. Rainier! How crazy did that feel?
And that’s our final post on training and preparation. But if you feel like you want more details, I have the perfect thing for you.
Introducing the Everyday Hero’s Mt. Rainier Training Plan!
It’s a 21-week training plan with all your aerobic, strength, and hiking workouts mapped out for you (including the peak and taper!). I’ve even included special gym workout plans for athletes training away from the mountains. Plus you get a training manual ebook, trip planner, workout log, wall calendar, and gear checklist.
So if that sounds like a lifesaver, click the button below for more deets.
OK, so your homework for tonight is to mark the taper period on your calendar (if you haven’t already). This is a happy zone where you can schedule some fun time with friends, go to a show, or take a little getaway with your boo. So it’s good to have it visualized.
Then start a taper to-do list. You can do it on your phone or write it on paper and tape it to your wall. It’s fine if it’s empty for now. Just add all those niggling little tasks you think of during training but just don’t have time for. Believe me, it will probably fill up fast!
And there you have it. I’ll be back tomorrow with one more post and some thoughts for your post-climb period.