Ironman Triathlon Taper

A well-planned ironman taper can have a positive impact on how race-day turns out.

On the other hand if you mess it up and train yourself into oblivion you will most likely be part of the Ironman death march, or at the very least will be unhappy with your race-day performance.

It never fails that in every single Ironman race in the world there are many triathletes who go into the race tired and over-trained.

Many people who are taking on their first Ironman do not fully understand the process or the importance of tapering before the event.

I know that’s true because every single Ironman race I ever go to for book signings etc. I see people heading for a bike ride out on the course or running in the heat of the day.

I also know because of all the people who email me asking about how to taper.

As I have said many times, I never was a pro triathlete and I am not a certified coach.

That is not what Ironstruck is about.

Ironstruck is about passing on the lessons I have learned over the years so I can help others accomplish their triathlon goals. All in all I have been involved in endurance sports in one form or another for over 35 years and in the process made a ton of mistakes and learned a lot of important lessons.

WHY PEOPLE OVER-TRAIN

The best way to answer this is to go back to the days when I was so excited and thrilled to be running 10k races, marathons, and ultimately being blessed with the opportunity to make it to the Ironman start line 14 times.

I loved it so much I just could not stop training. Every success made me want to train harder so I could reach the next level.

My best marathon results were in the first few years of running and went downhill from there until I took up triathlon.

Will you be ready?


The reason for this is that I had not yet trained myself into the ground in those early years, so had great results. The notion of training harder and more often was well-intentioned but absolutely the wrong thing to do.

As the years passed I never gave myself time to ever recover completely and could never understand why my times never improved considering how hard I was training.

I never even let up after I was one of the first athletes in Canada to have arthroscopic knee surgery. It was an over-use injury.

About 8 weeks later I ran a 3:12 marathon and was right back into the heavy training.
A year later I had the other knee scoped.

Then the Ironman came along. Still I had no understanding of tapering or resting and went head-first into Ironman training without missing a beat.

I can honestly say that I most likely went into about 10 of my 14 Ironman races over-trained and tired. My best effort was usually left out on my favorite bike-training route.

I was always so proud to be at the Ironman venue the week before the race. Like so many others I would go for runs and bike rides in the heat of the day as the Ironman start crept closer and closer.

I wanted to be out there.

I wanted people to see me running and out on my bike. I was proud of being an Ironman and proud of how hard I had worked, how fit I looked, and how freaking awesome I was…..at least in my own mind.

I wanted to be at the beach putting on my wetsuit and going out on the swim course so people could see me and so I could see others I guess.

I really didn’t know what I was doing there or how far I was going to swim, I just did it. In my early Ironman races back in the 80’s I would swim every morning of Ironman week because everyone else was.

This is a natural phenomena when it comes to the Ironman. As far as I knew at the time, there was no such thing as the Ironman taper.

It’s the same reason you will see a few dozen Japanese triathletes head out as a group on an 80k bike ride 3 days before the gun goes off for the start of the Ironman.

It is a source of pride for all they have accomplished and I understand it completely.

If it is your first Ironman you may very well find yourself doing exactly the same thing.
You should be proud of how much you have accomplished. If you really want to get out there and bike and run with pride and let people see you doing it in the days before your first Ironman, than I think you should do it.

This is especially true if it is your first Ironman because will only ever have one first Ironman triathlon. Do whatever feels good to you and enjoy every single moment.

It’s very important however that you realize that the energy you use up in that last week before the race on those 10k runs in the heat or 50k bikes on the Wednesday before the race is virtually unrecoverable.

You are using up energy that you will desperately need on Ironman day.

Ironman day will come sooner than you think.


At best it will make your race more difficult and your results might not be quite what you expect, and at worst you may not have the energy to finish the Ironman and have DNF beside your name in the results book.

I am just telling you what will most likely happen because I have seen it happen over and over again and I just know I will see it again at Ironman Canada 2012 when I am in Penticton this August.

It’s up to you to decide what your priorities are.

So on that note I will give you my thoughts on how one might consider tapering for the Ironman.

If you have a coach you believe in, than by all means do things the way your coach suggests, but if you are on your own and twisting in the wind like I was most of the time than maybe I can give you some direction that will perhaps help you realize your Ironman dream.

THE IRONMAN TAPER

To me the Ironman taper is no longer a mystery. Too bad I’m not still competing now that I have figured things out, but it is just as rewarding helping others reach their Ironman goal.

For example say you are doing Ironman Canada 2012 on August 26th in Penticton and it is your very first Ironman.

Your last long training bikes, swims, or runs should be all done by the weekend of July 28-29.

So in other words if you have the urge to go long, do your last 100 mile bike or 20 mile run on that weekend or before…….. but not after.

It’s important to remember this:

If you do not have your endurance built up when you are a month away from your Ironman, there is nothing you can do in that last month that is going to help your endurance. It’s too late.

Whatever you have in your endurance bank with a month to go until the Ironman is what you will be going into the race with.

The best thing you can do at this point is rest and recover as you make your way through the last four weeks before your big day.

Yes, I believe a four-week taper is the way to go for the Ironman. So using Ironman Canada as an example once again, you will see that if your last big training weekend is July 28-29, that leaves you exactly 28 days(four weeks)to taper gradually into your race.

FOUR WEEKS FROM IRONMAN RACE-DAY

Beginning the week of July 30th, I would suggest cutting back your average training week by at least 50% on that week. So if you were usually biking 200k a week and running 80k a week, then now it will be 100k a week biking and 40k a week running. Take 3 full rest days during this week.

These are just example figures. However much you personally happen to train, just cut it back by 50% on that week. Let your body be aware that you are doing much less. Let it drift into rest mode.

THREE WEEKS TO IRONMAN

The next week cut back your training again. Cut it back to 40% of your usual training week. You will truly begin to rest now. Using the above example you would now be biking about 80-85k week and running around 30-35k.

At this point you can keep up your usual intensity, but the amount you do should continue to be reduced. Take 3 full rest days this week.

So if you look at a calendar you will see that it is now the weekend of August 11-12 and two weeks away from the big day.

TWO WEEKS TO IRONMAN TRIATHLON

Some people at this point will begin to think they are losing all they have earned over their months or even years of training.

You could even be gaining a bit of weight because you are training less during your Ironman taper.

Mark Allen who won Ironman Hawaii about 6 times suggests doing an Olympic Distance triathlon on this weekend.

He feels it will allow one last chance to work on your transitions and will also help you keep sharp for the Ironman because you have been doing far less than you are used to.

I have my own thoughts on this.

Yes you could do the Olympic distance on that weekend, but do not enter a race. Do it on your own instead. Too many people have a competitive nature and if you are in an actual race you might push yourself far too much and I believe that would be a mistake.

Plan your own private Olympic distance triathlon and do it a little faster than your usual training pace. Keep the transitions close together.

Go for a 1500 meter swim, bike 40k on a wind-trainer if you like. Put on your running shoes and run a steady 10k.

You could even do less and make it the Sprint distance and cut those distances in half. You will still be working on your transitions regardless of the distance.

A third option might be to do a steady 2-mile swim and a short bike and run after to reinforce in your mind that you can handle the 2.4 mile swim. This might be a good idea for those who need affirmation that they can manage the swim and have not lost any endurance because of the taper.

Regardless of what you decide to do, this is the weekend to do a bit more in your final tune-up for Ironman day.

Do not run or bike a long distance anytime during your 4-week taper. No 15 or 20 milers in running or 70 or 80 miles in cycling. You simply don’t need it and it will do more harm than good.

That one last long swim with two full weeks to go is okay because there is no impact, however you are still stressing yourself physically, but over the next two weeks you will fully recover from that swim.

Do not try and swim fast if you do one last long swim. Do a very controlled swim and concentrate on a long, smooth, relaxed stroke, just like the one you will use on race-day.

Whatever you decide, when your training session ends on that weekend you will be as ready for your Ironman as you ever will be. Now for the last two weeks you simply coast into the Ironman.

Your training is completely done.

On the 2nd last week…August 13-19, you should be training very little. Take 3 full rest days once again. Make your swims, bikes, and runs short and work on your technique one last time. Long, smooth strokes in the swim and a good steady spin on the bike. Those are two huge keys to your Ironman success. Thirty minutes on any given workout is plenty.

ONE WEEK TO GO

This is what I suggest for Ironman Week.

Take the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday off completely. Maybe on Tuesday go out and test the waters. Go for an easy swim. You don’t need to–and it is not wise to–swim the entire course. There is no benefit in doing that.

Do nothing in the way of swim, bike, run, on Wednesday. The expo opens so maybe go down there and look around, but stay out of the sun as much as possible. Begin hydrating on Wednesday.

On Thursday go for a short 3k-4k run early in the morning while it is cool. If you really must, go down to the beach for an easy swim or perhaps bike 10-12k easy. However, always avoid the heat of the day and get all this done in the cool of the morning whenever possible.

Take Friday completely off. Do something with the friends and family who have perhaps supported you all year. If you plan on checking your bike into transition on Friday, then take it out for one last short ride. 6k-8k is enough to ensure your computer is working and gears are shifting properly.

Trust me when I say that going out for a 50k or 60k or 70k or 80k ride during Ironman week has no benefit and can only be detrimental to your race. You will see many people doing just that, but now you know better.

You may not sleep well on Ironman race eve.


Many people actually become dehydrated in the days leading up to the Ironman and most of that is caused by swimming, biking, and running in the heat of the day. So really, it’s a bit of a double whammy.

Just a reminder that whenever you do decide to check your bike in be sure to leave it in a very easy gear for race day. It will help you get out of transition much safer and easier.

Friday night is the night you want to have the best sleep possible for a Sunday Ironman. That way if you have a restless sleep the night before the race you will still be fine.

On Saturday morning take your bike out one last time if you have not checked it into transition yet. Remember, very short just to make sure everything is good with your bike.

If you have already checked your bike in than go for a short 2k run. Do a few(4 or 5) 10-12 second sprints. Sometimes these are called “pick-ups.” Mark Allen is really high on these just before an Ironman.

In the past I have done pick-ups myself the day before a marathon or Ironman and it really does seem to help. Just don’t over-do it. Keep them very short and quick(no more than 12 seconds or so)and rest for a good 90 seconds in between.

They are just giving your body a bit of a wake-up call for the next morning.

You might think that it would make more sense to do something on Friday and take Saturday the day before the race off, but there is a reason why the day before the race is better.

If you are tapering properly, chances are you will feel really crappy for a time during race week.

That’s normal and it’s a good thing. Your body is sort of reacting to the change from all the training to taper mode and you will be more than ready when the start gun sounds.

These short sprints are like a call to action after all the rest.

Please remember that I am not a coach.

It took me a lot of years of hit and miss to understand the importance of proper rest.

You can take my suggestions or leave them, but I really believe that if you follow my guidelines for allowing a month for your Ironman taper that you will be as rested and ready for your Ironman as you can possibly be.

You will NOT be going into the race tired as so many novice Ironmen do and as I did so many times.

Whatever Ironman race in the world you are doing, you can follow this plan. Just make it fit your race date. Go back 4 weeks from your Ironman day and begin this taper plan there.

Please feel free to contact us at Ironstruck.com. We will do all we can to address your questions and concerns and help you any way we can during your Ironman journey.

2 thoughts on “Ironman Triathlon Taper

  1. Thank you very much for the advice . I really appiceated that . I have a race on January 12.2013 . Your article really helped a lot . Thanks .

    • Hi Tram! Thanks for your comment and I am glad to hear that the article has given you some insight into tapering for your upcoming Ironman. You would be amazed how many people go into the Ironman over-trained and tired. Rest is your friend in that last month. Best of luck in your race.

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