Today (Friday) is my rest day of the last full training week. Saturday, I have a 90 minute run planned and Sunday is a brick session consisting of a 70 mile bike ride and 30 minute run. Then the next three weeks I begin my taper. What is and why do tapers have to be done?
A taper is an easing-off, needed to recover from the previous high volume of training which has been undertaken. The harder and longer the training has been to prepare for an event, the more benefit there will be from a taper. It is common amongst endurance event participants that they feel they could have done more training however at this stage in the training plan the biggest chance of improvement is through reducing the workouts; otherwise any last minute sessions, hard or long, will still be affecting the body during the event.
During the reduction in training, you must not over extend yourself, otherwise this will not only delay the taper but can lead to a late injury. Take more sleep, rest, and relaxation with a reduction in total weekly training. One race-pace workout a week in each discipline is all that is required.
To be in the best condition for the endurance event a taper is essential and for an Ironman event a 3-week taper is needed. 1-3 weeks is enough for a marathon but 3-4 weeks is the minimum for an Ironman. It must be remembered that the athlete will be placing great stress on their body and mind throughout this Ironman triathlon event, so to complete it the athlete needs to be well rested. It is only full time athletes who can get away with a shorter taper as their rest-to-training-ratio is much higher than trialthletes that have to work as well. Typically over the next three weeks the reduction in training equates to a drop in volume/time of 25% per week. Clearly then, during the last taper week the athlete is only training for 25% of the time which would normally be practiced over the past 24 weeks (for those following my 27 week training plan). Whilst this seems like heaven and it clearly gives the athlete some time to do other things it’s often very difficult for the athlete. The fact that the athlete feels less tired is great but the mind tells them they should be doing more and that they will struggle in the event. One of the hardest parts of the taper is keeping focused and not overeating! Whilst part of the taper is to stoke up energy supplies, the reduction in training means less calories are needed but unfortunately, the athlete has probably become used to eating copious quantities of food and now needs to taper that intake to match the calorie expenditure reduction. Sometime a tricky balancing act! So, that’s why a taper is required.