Triathlon has always been and always will be a mix of science and art.
Just because results in a lab show "x" doesn't mean you'll get those results in training or on race day.
Likewise, just because you "feel" a certain way doesn't mean the data will reflect the same experience.
Tapering is a perfect example of this.
We define tapering as the rest and recover phase immediately before a race. This period will enable you to get the best out of your body on the day of the event.
How long should a taper be?
The first piece of the puzzle is the distance of your race. Leading up to a 5k your body doesn't require as much recovery as it does before a full distance triathlon.
Next you need to look at your volume of training. If you've had a massive training load, your body will need more time to recover. That being said, if you are accustomed to big volume your body will recover faster that someone who isn't. (This is where the art comes in.)
In general we like:
Sprint = 1 week taper
70.3 = 2 week taper
140.6 = 3 week taper
How do you taper?
As stated, the reason for a taper is to allow your body to rest and recover. But that doesn't mean laying on the couch the whole time. Definitely throw in additional rest days, sleep a little longer, focus on fueling for recovery.
A key to tapering well though is keeping the body moving with easy sessions. Too much rest and your body will start to tighten up and get lethargic. This is where the taper tantrums come in!
Believe it or not, a short, easy training session, yes even the day before your race, will help keep the muscles loose, joints lubricated and body ready to perform.
Always remember, just because a taper worked or didn't work for one race doesn't mean you'll get the same result at the next race. You are a constantly evolving athlete, you are never the same athlete at any race.
What about you? Do you taper the same way before every race? Or change it up?