"I've been watching a Facebook discussion regarding everyone's plans for tapering for Iron distance races and the responses are all over the place. I always thought I knew what I was doing regarding tapering, but seeing all these different plans has thrown me for a loop. I've always been under the impression that you don't really change much, aside from a progressive reduction in volume.
For example, for a three week taper, my plan (Be Iron Fit - Intermediate) is calling for roughly 50% down the first week, 30% the next, and very very little the last week. But, in the end, I'm still doing 3x swim, 3x bike, 3x run per week.
Some of the responses I'm seeing are, "I'm dropping the bike and run almost entirely, and focusing on swim. Another is going to pick up a ton of core work with weights while some only doing a two week taper.
I've just never heard of so many different taper plans. I got the impression some people looked at taper as training being over, rather than it being just a gentle reduction in volume and there are 2-4 weeks to kill and just want to fill the time.
Is this typical for taper? Is it more of a "to each his own" or is there a best way to go about it"
Tapering is part art, part science. If you’ve been racing a long time, then you know what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. I know people who train for an Ironman, who run 20 miles the week of the race or others who like to bike 4-5 hours. I’m not saying either of these things are right, but just examples of what people have been known to do.
Up the frequency, drop the volume
In my opinion, you have to keep up the frequency and drop the volume. Let’s say you are running four days a week and two of those days are runs off the bike. Maybe one day is an hour and the other day is 30 minutes. I would cut those workouts back to 30 and 20 minutes, respectively. The other two runs days would be your long run and your medium run – but dial the long run back to no more than 90 minutes and the medium run to 45-60’. It really depends on how much you’ve been training, but there is no need to do a lot of volume.
Don't forget about intensity
As you taper down, you should add intensity. Something as simple as 5x800m for running would do the trick for this. You don’t need to run miles and miles of 400s or mile repeats – pick something in between and run it at a good pace – 5k to 10k. For the week of the race, I would suggest a few days of shorter intervals, maybe 4-5 reps of 90” intervals – full recovery in between and these should be done at 5k to 10k pace as well.
For the bike the plan would be the same – cut the long bike back to two hours for the last week, but input 30 minutes at HIM effort – just give your body an idea of some work, but not overly hard. During the week of the race, I would cut the bike back to 2-3 rides with two of the rides including some 90” efforts – maybe 4-6 reps, just like the run.
The swim would be the same – keep the frequency, cut back on the volume and add in some intensity. I love to see athletes swim 100s or 200s in the weeks leading up to the race. That doesn’t mean I don’t think they should swim a few longer straight swims, but the majority of the workouts should be short, fast and sweet. After a good warm up a few 100s at race effort or slightly faster would do the trick – maybe 10-12 x 100 at goal race pace with 20-30” rest. Make each 100 consistent and if you need more rest to do that, that’s ok. Try not to over swim these and keep the pace close to goal pace. When you are starting to rest up, it’s easy to drill a workout because you are feeling strong.
The whole idea of the taper is to let your body recover and get stronger for all those long hours and miles you’ve been putting in over the past several months. You can blow all that hard earned fitness by not tapering enough. My only rule with taper is that you have to be motivated and excited to do each workout. If you aren’t, I think you are better off resting and waiting until the next day.
Good luck with your taper!
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Mike Ricci, the USAT National Coach of the Year, is the owner and founder of the D3 Multisport coaching group, through which he coaches all levels of athletes from beginner to elite. Mike is also the former head coach of the 2013 National Champion CU Triathlon Team, and has guided them to 4 consecutive collegiate National Champion titles from 2010-2013. Mike has written training plans for Team USA for the past several years, is a USAT Level III Elite coach, and has helped many athletes to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona.