By Dave Scott
Over the years I’ve seen many athletes not achieve their full potential in races because they failed to execute a proper IRONMAN taper.
I’ve witnessed triathletes who have not backed off enough and were tired and flat at the event; I’ve also seen those who have dialed back their training far too much, and dulled the fitness that they had taken months to hone.
Follow my prescription as we countdown to race day in Kona, and you’ll arrive at the starting line with that perfect mix of expansive aerobic capability and sharp, high-intensity output that will propel you to an optimal performance.
While this is written with the IRONMAN World Championship in mind, it will work for any IRONMAN you may be racing. Tapering is an art form, so above all else, listen to your own body.
22 Days to 10 Days Before The Race
1. Maintain your schedule. Maintain the same number of training days per week and follow your typical schedule. If you normally run on Tuesdays, then continue to do it! Don’t alter things.
2. Long training days. Your training is nearly complete, and so you should resist “cramming in” your final long workouts too close to the event. If you’re planning a long run, schedule your last one 18 to 22 days before the race. Your last long bike should take place 14 to 21 days from race day. Your long swim: Nine to 10 days prior.
3. Maintain “race-like intensity,” but reduce the segment length of repeats. There is a great physiological return on reducing your sub-threshold and threshold training to between 90 second to 3.5 minutes per repeat.
These shorter segments—even with complete recovery—will not leave you whipped after the workout. By resisting the temptation to lengthen the repeats, you’ll maintain the adaptive stress of the session and enhance your day-to-day recovery.
An example set is: 3 x 3.5 min + 3 x 90 sec + 3 x 2.5 min + 3 x 90 sec. The rest interval between repeats should be long enough to maintain the desired intensity throughout the workout.
4. Notice improved performance. One characteristic of a proper taper is that you’ll begin to feel a bit fresher during and after the workouts, while experiencing a 2 percent to 5 percent increase in performance (either by comparing tangible measurements or Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)).
For example, all of your training sessions might feel easier with a concurrent increase in speed, watts or simultaneous reduction in heart rate.
Simply, you should begin to feel like you’re flowing at less effort. This sensation is a positive affirmation that your training has been effective and you’re on track for a good race.
Additionally, niggling stiffness or sore spots should subside. Acute soreness means you need to rest more or consider a combination of modalities to expedite the recovery (see #8 below).
5. Reduce overall training time. A reduction in total training time should start during this taper block. Looking at weekly training volumes, my suggestion is not to reduce the volumes by a fixed percentage.
The problem with this math is that the athletes who train 11 to 14 hours per week (i.e. most age-group athletes with full-time jobs and families) cannot compare themselves with those training 30-35 hours weekly (i.e. professional athletes and elite age group athletes).
The following are my percentage reductions based on your hours per week:
- For those logging 11 to 14 hours per week, reduce your volume by about 15 percent.
- If you’re typically training 15 to 22 hours, bring the volume down by 20 percent.
- If you’re at 23 to 30 hours, then reduce that by 25 percent.
- If you’re training more than 30 hours, then reduce that by 30 percent.
These percentage reductions should be reflected in all disciplines, and particularly in your run workouts. The eccentric load of the run slows the recovery process. Also be sure to look at your personal strengths and weaknesses and reduce accordingly.
6. Maintain your mobility, stretching and strength training. Eliminate the heavy lifts or explosive plyometrics, and reduce the weight and number of reps, but maintain your typical routine.
Take the exercises to fatigue but never to failure. If you’re on a minimal strength program, continue at least twice per week emphasizing core, gluteal, rotator and back strength, plus maintain joint mobility with foam rolling and stretching.
7. Watch your weight. Your goal is to neither gain weight nor hit your optimum race weight during this time block.
Eat nutrient-dense foods with healthy fats and protein at all meals. Cut back on simple carbohydrates.
Don’t alter your macronutrient balance. This is not the time to adjust your diet strategy! If you’re madly driven to lose weight during the final 10 days, then keep this weight loss to no more 0.5 percent of your body weight.
8. Continue your bodywork. Maintain treatments with your physical therapist, massage therapist, acupuncturist or yoga routines. These are all good, but don’t try something new during this period!
Nine Days and Counting to Race Day….
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