The easiest part about training for a key race is the training. The closer athletes get to the big day, the more jittery they become and the more questions arise as to how to ensure they get to the start line feeling fresh, sharp and ready to tear into the race. Athletes swear they can feel their fitness melting away during a recovery day or a complete rest day. When during high-volume training they were excited about some R&R, during taper time that same R&R freaks them out.
What’s challenging to remember – but, also critical to remember – is that all the hard work has been done. Before you even start tapering, you’re ready to tackle the distance. You’ve logged the endless miles and you’re super fit. The taper is about adding some freshness, some spring to your step, so that you can cover the distance even faster because you have less fatigue (not less fitness) built up in the muscles. Instead of partly drained, your battery will be fully charged.
So, here is a blueprint for the final 10 days of training heading into your key long-distance triathlon event. If you need to rejigger a couple of days, go ahead. The point is that this provides you with a nice mix and balance of S/B/R, providing enough stimulus to keep the body humming without allowing it to start hibernating, so you hit the start line feeling ready to go rather than sluggish. You can also set your mind at ease and not fret about whether you’re doing too much or too little – this approach will be just right.
I find this approach to be of particular value to Masters athletes, who tend to have fuller lives and more stressors than their younger counterparts. With kids of various ages, higher stress jobs and typically more financial responsibilities, it is easy to let mental and emotional stressors overflow and drown out the added energy from reducing the physical stress during taper time. Following this plan will at least allow Masters athletes to combat the potential for heightened mental and emotional duress, which can be more fatiguing than a hard day of training.
Final 10 days heading into an Ironman or Ironman 70.3
10 - swim 45min, include 500-1,000 of race-specific pace work, broken into 50s-100s
9 - run 30min with the middle 20 being steady, strong L2. No higher. Swim 20min easy and relaxed, emphasizing some kicking
8 - bike 2-3 hours. Include 2-3x30min efforts at or slightly faster than race day pace. For example, if your goal is to hold 20mph average, then shoot for 20.5-21mph here (but not 23-24). Simulate the race course as closely as you can
7 - swim 40min, mainly relaxed L1-L2 working on form. Can include 8x50 L3 with 10-15sec rest before cooling down
6- run 30min relaxed L1 with 4-5x10sec strides w/1:20 easy jog between
5 - bike 75-90min, middle 50-60min done as 8min L2/2min L3; last of the tuning up
4 - swim 20min easy and relaxed; run 20-30min easy and relaxed with 4-5x10sec strides w/1:20 easy jog between
3 - bike 60min mainly L2. Keep the aerobic engine tuned but avoid pressing the effort. Settle in
2 - pool swim 20-30min relaxed, to limber up, rejuvenate and burn some nervous energy
1 - Race!
There you have it. The critical component of the taper is having full confidence in your final approach and not questioning or second-guessing the final 1-2 weeks of preparation. Affirm that you are fit, that you are indeed sharpening your sword, and that when the gun finally goes off you will be flying through the race course.