The Taper

Some general notes on the Ironman Taper. I will start my description from four weeks out from race day and count backwards to race week. This taper is for a strong athlete that went through the full build period and has a deep endurance base. For athletes that need to improve endurance right up to race day, I would have a different strategy.

Week Four (Recovery Week)

The purpose of the first 4-6 days of Week Four is to shake all the accumulated fatigue from the 2-3 Build Weeks that preceded it.

Take a flexible approach to all workouts, remembering that you will likely have some deep fatigue accumulated from the Build Period.

If you feel strong early in the week then I recommend that you keep resting. Put additional energy into your swimming, perhaps, but keep the volume down on your lower body.

This week ends with a race simulation workout. Typically, 2.5-3.5 hours on the bike -- followed by 90 minutes of running. If convenient then it is OK to swim before the bike. However, I do not believe that a swim is essential.

If you are working on improving your endurance then the pacing of the race sim workouts should be Zn 1 early, building into Zn 2. This will apply to many athletes preparing for their first IM. These athletes might consider being at the top end of the recommended duration. More volume and less intensity would make sense for an athlete seeking to improve their endurance.

Here are my pacing thoughts for athletes have a strong endurance base leading into this race simulation workout.

  • Bike -- for most athletes I recommend that they hold back at the start of the bike. You will be rested, you will likely think that you can go faster. It is an excellent time to practice the HUGE discipline that you will need during the early part of the IM bike. After the first 15mi/25K of the bike, I normally recommend that athletes gradually build to a pace faster than IM race pace. The last 15 minutes of the bike should be done hard/Zn 4. Push a big gear and ride hard.

  • Transition -- Bike to run transition should be a race simulation as well. All your gear in a bag, a fast as possible.

  • Run Pacing -- If you rode hard then your legs will be loaded and stiff. Just like IM. For the first 2-3 miles focus on a high cadence and getting your step back. Then sit in Zn 3 (faster than IM pace). Finish the last 30 mins of the run working hard (Top Zn 3/Zn 4).

  • Post Workout -- Recovery food and stretching are very important.

Week Three (Peak Week 1)

Swimming -- This is a normal swimming week. For my athletes swimming 4x per week, I will typically recommend one open water swim in place of one of their technique swims. For my athletes swimming 3x per week, I will recommend one water swim in place of either their technique swim or their faster swim. All athletes will have one BT swim that focuses on muscular endurance. Athletes with a personal weakness in swim endurance will continue to focus on raw endurance.

Bike/Run -- Two key race simulation workouts. The bike on the first will focus on the athlete's greatest personal weakness. The bike in the second will focus on race specific terrain. The runs will typically be no more than 60 minutes. Brick duration and intensity are quite variable depending on the needs of the athlete. Duration varies from 3.5-5 hours.

Volume -- This week typically ends up slightly less than an average Build Week. The main difference is the lack of a long run.

Recovery -- There are no "recovery runs". Higher volume athletes will have recovery rides the day after the key race simulation workouts.

Strength -- Athletes will continue to lift but will have specific instructions not to let the weights interfere with the race sim workouts. Higher volume athletes will have a second core session and possibly some strides.

Aerobic Maintenance -- Higher volume athletes may have one or two Zn 2 rides inserted in the week. We might schedule a run off the bike for one of these workouts.

Week Two (Peak Week 2)

Swimming -- A normal swimming week except we will start to back off ten days from race day. The final BT workout is a tough, muscular endurance session scheduled for about ten days before the race. See long swim workout #8 or #9 on my tips page. Early in the week, I would normally schedule an open water swim. Pacing, drafting, wetsuit comfort -- are all things that can be practiced during these sessions.

Race Simulation -- Same deal as last week. Two race simulation workouts. The first workout is normally 2-3 hrs long, the second workout is normally 90-120 mins long. Typically, no more than 30 mins of running in either of the bricks. The pacing of the last race sim workout is typically faster than 1/2 IM pace on the bike and steady on the run. Normally, the athlete feels fantastic for this session and I think a faster ride is good for mental preps.

Other Workouts -- Either recovery rides or aerobic maintenance bricks with 15 mins of running.

Recovery -- Some athletes feel quite tired in this week. For them, I recommend total rest days. It is essential to end the week totally rested.

Strength -- One maintenance weights session is scheduled. Lighter than usual on that session.

Week One (Race Week)

Here is a typical race week schedule for a Sunday IM.

Open water or pool swim, insert 6x90s hard efforts
Key Workout is 30 min easy run insert 5x90s hard efforts, open water swim on course, short easy spin in evening
Easy brick 60-90 min long, insert 4x90s hard efforts into bike, run no more than 15 min
Open water swim, easy bike 60-90 mins insert 3x90s hard efforts into bike
Day off or short very easy swim
One hour swim/bike/run session with a few 30s pick-ups into each sport
Race Day

Further Tips For Race Week

Here is what I would do if you are "serious" about your performance.

  • Go to bed at the same time every day. If you don't sleep then relax -- it is because you are rested and ready to go. Even if you aren't sleeping, I think it is important to relax and visualize in bed.
  • Wake up 30 min earlier each day so that on race morning you wake up easily at the desired time. If you are tired then you might have to adjust your go to bed time earlier as well.
  • Stay away from large groups of freaking triathletes. You'll never see me at dinners. You might see me at a lunch. I do make an exception for the Carbo Dinner.
  • Stay out of the sun.
  • Visit the expo, once only for two hours max.
  • Every other day should be a total avoid people day (i.e. I take Sun/Tues/Thurs "off" from people and engagements) -- I spend this reading, on-line coaching or hanging with one or two calm friends.
  • Do LESS workouts than you think you need. Maintain your intensity.
  • Eat the exact same diet, only less.
  • No alcohol.
  • I eliminate all naps -- not required and mess with my evening sleeping.
  • Run through the entire race -- at least twice -- in your head.
  • Lay out all gear well in advance.
  • Ensure bike is 100% functional well in advance.
  • Stay calm, focus on your own race. Give no energy to your competitors. Know that the only person's race that you can control is your own.
  • Post a note on the comments page that says you will see every one at the Awards dinner and apologise in advance for not speaking to them on race day. You've got a job to do, once it is done, then you can socialize.
  • When you do see people, surround them in calm. Sit down, answer their questions and wish them luck.
  • When you get a little nervous remember your key sessions, know that you are ready to go.
This is the "serious" plan and means that you have to restrict your socializing. It is, however, what I think will result in the best performance on race day.

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