Journey to Olympic Trials: Taper Time!

PHOENIX, Arizona, December 1. TODAY is the day every competitive swimmer dreams about for months. It's the start of taper!

If you've been following my blog, you know that I have been training not just for the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials, but for the Arizona Masters state championships, Dec. 10-11 here in Phoenix. It is a short course meters meet that will serve as a gauge on how my training has been these past few months, and whether the additions I've made to my workouts in and out of the pool have been positive or negative.

Of course, any great training season can be completely ruined by a bad taper, and I am well aware of that. I'm making myself very aware of how my body feels each day, adjusting workouts as needed. This is something I learned to do only a few years ago, when I started swimming Masters. When I was swimming in high school and college — as well as my brief postgrad career — I put the fate of my taper in the hands of very accomplished coaches. More often than not, the tapers did not go well, and I swam slower than I expected. But when the taper did go well, I never stopped to think about the things I did that helped get me to fast swimming. That has all changed.

A few friends have asked me why I only taper for 10 days. The answer is very simple. If you only put in an average of 3,500 yards/meters per workout, you don't have much to taper from. A typical swimmer who trains 6,000 yards/meters or more in a day will need the common two-week taper. I am already concerned about tapering 10 days. I have a feeling it might be reduced to eight. Last week, I didn't do much in the pool, with the Thanksgiving holiday being a major culprit. (Read my blog to see what little I did in the pool from Thursday to Monday.)

What is my taper like? It's hard to say. It varies each season, but mostly it involves doing "test sets" through the course of taper, to give me an indicator of how my body is preparing to race. At some point, I should feel like I am not stepping up to do a workout test set, but an actual racing test set. From my mindset before stepping on the blocks to executing each crucial element during the swim, everything will be fine-tuned. If something doesn't feel right during the main part of the season, I move on. During taper, I tend to do more work on starts and turns. But since I've been working on those throughout the season, this will be essentially honing one or two lagging parts.

I'm very anxious to race at the Masters meet. I do have some goals in mind, but I'm going to pull a Michael Phelps and not tell you what they are!

Jeff Commings is the author of "Odd Man Out: An Autobiography." In July, he qualified for the Olympic Trials in the 100 breaststroke at age 37. He holds Masters world records in the 50 and 100 breaststrokes for the 35-39 age group.

Follow Jeff Commings' training for Olympic Trials at commings.blogspot.com.

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