During the taper a triathlete’s fears transform from ‘am I doing enough?‘ to ‘am I doing too much?‘. Many struggle with the unfamiliar emphasis on reducing effort and resting. Last Tuesday I wrote about the principles behind a good taper, providing a broad outline of the structure I use. This week I want to focus on the details and provide a basic taper plan for Ironman.
Generic programs have their limitations – every athlete is different, a good plan should be tailored to fit their needs. It takes careful judgement to balance recovery and maintain a high level of fitness. After more than a dozen Ironman races I’ve constructed a simple template that works for me. I take elements from it when planning my own tapers and those of the athletes I coach. One size doesn’t fit all, but it can provide the basis to develop your own schedule.
Week one looks like an ordinary training week. Sessions aren’t that hard or long, but there is regular training and much of it at race intensity. Remember Ironman efforts are not intense; ten minutes at race pace will not require notable recovery. An athlete entering this taper after a peak period should find the week easy to complete.
The key features of the first seven days are:
- Swimming is simplified to either long race intensity sets or shorter, shaper speed work. More rest is allowed within each set.
- There is a final bike threshold session, but with short intervals and no attempt to set PBs for effort.
- A week before race day there is a short simulation – a bike ride with an extended period at race pace followed by a run building to race intensity. This is also an opportunity to test race setup.
- Running is greatly reduced – lower volume and intensity too. Some practice of race pacing, but not much more.
- Despite my dislike for them there are brick runs. They are an efficient way to get training completed early and provide a final reminder of how T2 will feel.
There is some flexibility in the order of sessions, but longer or harder workouts should not be moved too close to race day. Exact volume and intensity can be adjusted to match an athlete’s fitness. It is important that each discipline has at least one session practicing race pacing. Beyond that I want to have a very limited amount of effort above race intensity and everything else easy.
The taper is obvious – two full days off and training significantly reduced. As the race approaches the overall duration shortens, but time is still spent at Ironman intensity. Despite waning motivation it is important to keep active and outside of rest days do something. However, no single workout is critical and I always opt to rest more if I feel tired.
The key features of race week are:
- Two FULL rest days
- Two days of swim, bike and run
- If you can train on the course, do so. Training at race relevant times and locations is good as long as it doesn’t compromise rest and recovery.
- The day before the race train as early as possible, before breakfast. The rest of the day should be spent off your feet.
- A final swim at pace, then the priority is keeping the effort easy.
- Cycling reduces over the week, but keeping race pace work in there is important. Ironman pace is comparatively easy, understand how that feels.
- Very little running and very little running above an easy pace.
The logistics of travel, registration and other race related events may not match the plan. Ensure a rest day occurs two days before the race, but the other can be moved earlier in the week. I prefer to rest on the same day as travelling to spread overall stress, but if that’s not an option it’s acceptable to lightly train. Remember: get everything done early and prioritise rest.
From nutrition to pacing - a collection of CoachCox blog posts focused specifically on Ironman training and racing.