Generally speaking, every athlete I’ve worked with will at some point tell me they feel awful before a big race. To be honest, when first starting in this industry this often made me nervous as I wanted the athlete to feel great all the time. However, after realizing that both the coach and athlete have a job to do, I’ve come to recognize this message from the athlete as a clear sign that they are in fact ready to race. While the athlete will be questioning their abilities, from a coaching perspective, this shows that the athlete is ready to peak for their event. I will touch on the reasons why below. 

Breaking the Body Down
    I’m going to keep this very simple. In order for the body to adapt and grow, it must be stressed beyond its normal capacity. This process requires the body to break down in order for the athlete to build up.  When going into a peak for performance, the body will be breaking down in a specific manner which is often accompanied by a lot of stress. The peak stress often takes place 10-16 days before an athletes “A” race. As an athlete, this is often symbolized in a workout that was supposed to be longer or more intense, and you just not being able to even consider meeting the objective.  So close to the race, this often means you begin to question if you are fit and this leads to the difficult conversations with your coach.  This is normal. 

The Peak
    It will often take an athlete 5-6 days to fully recover (dependent on build and fitness level).  So, when going into a 10 day taper for example, the athlete won’t feel great until about 4-5 days before their event. This takes a lot of trust from an athletes perspective, but the reason why its important is because you can only maintain peak form and fitness for so long. If for example you started feeling awful 3 weeks ago and shut it down, you would risk recovering too early and then lose fitness and possibly even become stale before the big day. Therefore, this peak requires a close eye from your coach, but also the trust from an athlete. At no point should an athlete be pushing through extreme fatigue, but if it is being managed correctly, then most of the time you should be feeling a bit rough 2-3 weeks prior to your big race. 

When Should You Feel Great? 
    Ideally you’ll start feeling great roughly 3-4 days before the race.  You want your entire build to peak out for 7 days with the race day being located somewhere within that time frame.  When referencing the week of peak, I’m simply using the experience I’ve obtained by working with many athletes over the past years. Generally speaking, the best results I’ve seen as a coach come from athletes that only start telling me they feel great within the week of the race, not before. 

What to Expect During Build 
    The reason I wanted to address this is because as athletes come in with big goals, they often have the idea of becoming a machine and feeling invincible as they near competition. That simply isn’t how it works. Sure you’ll have some days where you feel like you’re unstoppable, but for the final build before the race, you’re more likely to feel like garbage than an amazing athlete. This often eats away at the athletes mind and begins to play tricks.  It even played tricks on my mind as a coach when I was first beginning.  However, after having dealt with this on hundreds of occasions, its now a welcomed sign in my eyes as I know the athlete has put in the work and now all they have to do is rest and enjoy a strong peak for their big race. 

    Fitness building requires the body to break down. In order to adapt and become stronger, you must break down your body so it can build higher. With a big race as the seasons goal, this often means that you will feel awful leading into it so you can feel amazing on race day. You must trust the process and the coach in this situation.  While it can be hard to do, often times a coach should have data on your build and be able to justify their plan.  If you can trust the process and let the body recover, you should experience one of your best races to date and successfully make it through the peak build!

For further listening, please follow the link to hear what our sports psychologist has to say on the mentality of.tapering: