On the flip side, there are many things you can do to arrive on race day fatigued and not ready to race at your best. This is where a good IRONMAN race taper comes in. Tapering is an art form in itself. It is mentally and physically challenging—but worth it. Instead of doing junk mileage, take these last few weeks to ensure your equipment is in good working order and your race travel logistics are all tied up.
The right way to taper for a long-distance event such as an IRONMAN is a hotly-contested topic among endurance athletes and coaches—and for good reason. The right taper will set you up for success, whereas a lousy one will derail even the most closely followed training plan. So let’s start with some basic questions about why tapering properly is so important, and some common tapering conundrums:
What is the purpose of a taper?
The large mileage and training load you accumulated during your last build phase heading into your race was very taxing on your body. You activated important neurons, built new muscle fiber, gained mental strength, and conditioned your heart, lungs, and even your gastrointestinal system on how to function during very long activity.
This hard work lays the foundation for your race, but it takes time for your body to absorb all of these new adaptations. Your body can’t do this properly without rest. By giving your body time to absorb, reset, and build, you’re essentially solidifying all the hard work you’ve done previously so you can take advantage of it on race day.
Should I completely stop working out for a month?
A taper doesn’t mean shutting down your output entirely, but you will take the focus off of high-volume and instead turn it toward short muscle and nerve activations (think more tempo runs and less long, slow distance).
This decrease in mileage will happen slowly over the four weeks, so don’t halt your training completely. Think of it as a slowly decreasing line with little spikes of intensity thrown in. As you approach race week, you’ll take a few more days off here and there as well.
I’ve reduced my workout load accordingly, and I feel terrible. I even got a cold and have noticed some pain in my knee that I never noticed before!
Relax, all of these situations are quite normal. It has been said by many a coach that you know you’re tapering correctly when two weeks out from your big race you're feeling absolutely terrible.
Mentally, your body has become accustomed to the high training volume and you might feel some anxiety or even depression once your training hours taper off. Use these extra hours in your week to focus on your mental health, spend time with friends and family, get massages, and get all your race-travel and equipment logistics in order. Use these extra hours wisely for taking care of yourself and preparing your body and your equipment for the task ahead of you.
From a physical standpoint, your lethargy is a sign that your body is rebuilding and resetting—which is a good thing! However, you might feel like you’re coming down with a cold (or actually come down with one) or notice some aches and pains you didn’t before.
High-volume training can suppress your immune system, and many common overuse injuries can be overlooked simply due to the intense nature of the training. This is why at the first sign of rest, your body might feel like it’s falling apart a little bit. Focus on a healthy diet and lots of sleep and you will start to feel excited and energetic just in time for race day.
How should I adjust my nutrition during my taper?
According to Dr. Rick Kattouf, nailing your IRONMAN nutrition taper involves focusing on timing your fueling so that you get the most benefit. He says to make sure that you eat first thing upon waking up and within an hour after finishing each and every workout. And even if you find yourself heading into race day with some extra weight, remember that now is not the time to shed weight or follow a new fad diet of any kind.
“Over the years I’ve seen many athletes not achieve their full potential in races because they failed to execute a proper IRONMAN taper. I’ve witnessed triathletes who have not backed off enough and were tired and flat at the event; I’ve also seen those who have dialed back their training far too much, and dulled the fitness that they had taken months to hone.”Dave Scott, 6x IRONMAN world champion & coach
IRONMAN Training Gear Maintenance
With your training schedule slightly opened up, you’ll quickly discover there are a number of items on your pre-race to-do list that need to be taken care of, so now’s the time to get them done!
There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing someone have their IRONMAN race goals destroyed by an avoidable mechanical or equipment failure. Yes, some things are largely unavoidable (puncture flats for instance), but most situations can be avoided by simply checking your equipment and getting a quality bike tune-up well ahead of race day.
Wetsuit: Check for signs of wear, particularly in the shoulders and around the zippers. Have any holes patched up.
Goggles: Check the straps for signs of wear, and consider purchasing goggle defogger wipes (baby shampoo and water can work well in a pinch).
Bike: Unless you are a bike mechanic, spend the money to have someone go over your bike to make sure everything is working properly. Many bike shops offer a “pre-race tune-up.” Check your tires, tubes, chain, shifters, and brakes and have anything replaced as needed. Purchase extra tubes, CO2 cartridges (or a portable bike pump), and plan on having everything you’d need to change a flat on your bike during the race. Not doing this can cost you hours waiting for a sag wagon to arrive!
Helmet: Make sure your helmet meets the safety standards required by your race. A good universal safety requirement is that of the USA CPSC, and a sticker stating your helmet meets this standard should be able to be seen clearly on the inside of the helmet. Make sure your straps work correctly, as an unstrapped helmet can lead to a disqualification.
Cycling shoes/cleats: Make sure all straps and buckles are in working order, clean your cleats, and apply a lubricant to them as well. If you are using cages, make sure those straps are secure and not overly frayed.
Running shoes: If you’re going to buy a new pair of racing shoes, now is the last possible time to do it to give you enough time to break them in properly before race day.
Don’t leave your bike transport planning to the last minute. Not only can bike transport be expensive, but depending on your transport method, it might require a lengthy lead time. Plus, in many scenarios you will need to reassemble it once you reach your race, and if you aren’t sure how to do this you’ll need to find a bike shop or mechanic to do this for you.
There are three main ways of transporting your bike to a destination race:
Using a transport service: There are a few reputable bike transport services that, while costly, basically take care of all of your equipment transport concerns pre and post race. You typically drop off your bike (and your gear for an additional cost) at a local bike shop and then pick it up at the race expo. After the race you simply turn it in and pick it up at the same bike shop once you get back home. You’ll likely need to remove your pedals before you drop off your bike, so make sure you remember to bring them with you to the race!
Transport services can remove a lot of the stress of race planning and travel, and if you book things far enough in advance you can save some money. One thing to keep in mind is that the drop off time for bikes before a race can sometimes be lengthy, so plan to not have your bike for at least two weeks before race day and possibly another few weeks post race as well.
Boxing and shipping it there yourself: If you feel comfortable trusting your bike to the postal service, this can be one of the more economical ways to go—but it isn’t without its risks. Many bike shops will pack your bike for you, but make sure you use a solid bike box or bike case. If you can fit some of your race equipment in the box it can be a good way to provide additional padding and save some room in your own suitcase. Be sure to get your bike insured and have it delivered to a bike shop near your event so it can be reassembled in time for you to take it out at least a few test rides before race day. Pay particular attention to the transit time, especially if you are traveling internationally for your event as this can delay delivery dramatically!
There are a few companies out there who offer shipping services for you. They will either pick up your boxed-up bike at your home or a local drop-off location (usually a bike shop). They can even provide you with a specially made bike box and deliver it to your preferred destination.
Flying with your bike: Many athletes opt to take their bike with them on the plane, and there are certainly a number of reasons to go with this option. You can use your bike up until you are ready to leave for your race, and you will have it right when you arrive at your event. However, traveling with a bike can get very pricey. Airline fees for oversize items such as bikes vary widely, and can depend on if you are traveling internationally as well.
Invest in a solid bike carrying case, because as much as you think your bike is amazing, baggage handlers could generally care less about it. Many an athlete has had the experience of watching their beloved TT bike being flung out of the back of a plane’s cargo area onto a truck.
Again, if you’re packing your bike in a case or box, pad it generously—particularly the more delicate areas like brake levers, chains, and derailleurs. And if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, make sure you have a qualified mechanic or friend ready to assemble it as soon as you arrive so you can test to make sure everything is in working order.
Finalizing Travel Logistics
By now you should have all of your travel plans in order: plane tickets, accommodations, rental car, etc. But it’s a good idea to double-check that your reservations are confirmed, and possibly make any last-minute changes as needed. Here are some basic IRONMAN pre-travel tips to finalize now:
- If you are traveling internationally, you should plan to give yourself an extra few days before the race to get over jet lag.
- Take some time to familiarize yourself with the event area. Learn how far you are staying from the race venue, approximate travel times, as well as the location of important amenities like groceries, restaurants, and gyms.
- Stock up on any race week or pre-race nutrition items to make sure you aren’t left frantically searching for them the night before your race.
- If you are traveling with your family, start researching things for them to do during race week to keep them occupied while you rest and prepare, and find a few fun things to do together as a family post-race to reward them for all their patience these last six months!
With your taper winding down, race time is right around the corner. Prepare to pack up, ship off, and let the official race week countdown begin!