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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a typical race week schedule for a Sunday IM.
Further Tips For Race Week
Here is what I would do if you are "serious" about your performance.