Taper: The light at the end of the tunnel

Taper: The light at the end of the tunnel

What every swimmer looks forward to of a season, the light at the end of the tunnel, taper time!! It is something I have never understood my entire swimming career, and one of the main reasons I could never be a swim coach. Tapering for a swimmers big meet is a science that I think only coaches understand, and what swimmers think they understand. All I know is I go in to practice everyday, do what the coach tells me (But definitely not scared to give them my opinion on the set…), and go home to rest.

During taper, I have to remember to relax. Sometimes people have so much free time on their hands they start to get stir-crazy. All they think about is swimming, the meet, or their race. I think it is always a good idea to keep a good balance. I make a point to try and do things to keep my mind of swimming, or things that I would on a normal day without exerted too much energy. I will play a lot of  Xbox, go see some movies, hang out on the beach, and take lots of naps. Of course this is always hard because I have so much energy from not working so hard. I’m like a kid on a sugar high and getting put in time out.

Taper is a roller coaster, never knowing how you are going to feel. Some days you will be lights out, other days you will come in and can barely hit a pace. It can be the most fun part of the season, and also the most frustrating! Eric Shanteau put it best last week when he tweeted this: 

It is exactly how I have been feeling, and I believe most swimmers will feel the same way throughout their taper season. I think every season there is a specific day that my body knows taper has begun. I don’t feel good in the water until the day before the meet and always get so worried, but I have to trust my coach and know that I am prepared for the final meet.

One thing I will always remember is something Ian Crocker said to me the day before 2008 Olympic Trials started. I was extremely nervous and hadn’t felt good in the water in weeks. I was telling him how worried I was because I felt so bad and the meet started in a day. He looked me in the eyes and said, “Ricky, trust your taper. Tomorrow when you jump in the water you are going to feel the best you have ever felt and you are going to swim faster than you have ever swam.” The next day I jumped in the water, and guess what? I felt incredible, then went on to make the Olympic team. I now tell myself that every time I am feeling crummy in the water before a big meet. If you tell yourself that you feel bad in the water, you’re going to. If you tell yourself you feel great, you’re going to feel great!

How long a taper lasts depends on the coach and where a swimmer is during his/her season. At Texas, I felt like Eddie Reese would be giving us some of the longest tapers in the country. We would start probably 5 weeks out, sprinters a little longer, some days would be pace and other days would be a 3,000 on our own. I remember one Thursday at afternoon practice, because this swimmer swam very poorly at a duel meet, Eddie came into practice and told this kid to take the next 3 days off and “I will see you Monday afternoon”. About 2 weeks later, the kid dropped a couple seconds in his 200 breast. Eddie’s taper way always amazed me.

Taper with Dave Salo is something very different. Eddie and Dave have two very different coaching style, which means two different taper styles. Dave even has a different word for it, “the fine tuning stage”. I haven’t experienced a full taper with Salo yet, but from what I have seen and heard, there aren’t many days of easy swimming. It is a lot of short race pace with a good amount of rest, some days would be 200 type pace sets and others would be short bursts with equipment on. But we will always be doing something fast during practice. I started this blog about a week ago, and now after experiencing more of the Dave Salo taper I completely understand why he calls it the “fine tuning stage” and not taper.

A big point that I make sure to be aware of during taper is my eating. My old roommate Hill Taylor always had his famous taper quote, “eat until you’re full, not until you’re stuffed.” Remember, you aren’t swimming as much are you normally are. If you’re eating the same amount you are going to gain unwanted weight and that isn’t good for your big meet.

I leave for trials in less than three weeks and I cannot WAIT! Until then I will be enjoying the rest, relaxing, and preparing myself for trials. I will be continuing to fine tune everything that I have worked so hard for the last couple years and make sure everything is just right before the meet. It will be a fun couple weeks ahead. If you have missed all my messages about my RB T-shirt shop, make sure to go check it out!