7 Tips To An Ironman Taper: 2 weeks to go

Here’s 7 tips to taper for an Ironman (and a bit about my taper for Barcelona):

  1. Two weeks to go: Reduce the volume. Keep intensity

  2. Stick to your training routine

  3. Expect to feel flat, tired, unfit and negative!

  4. Remind yourself why

  5. Feel the fear – and let it go

  6. Give yourself time

  7. Fail to plan, prepare to fail

  1. Two weeks to go: Reduce the volume. Keep intensity

After a solid marathon block of six months plus, I’ve tapered for three weeks. For Ironman the taper time is less, and usually between 10 days and two weeks. The time you taper is down to you, and how much training you’ve done.

They type of training you do does change. Rather than volume you focus on short burst of intensity and practise IM pace in short blocks, for example, 3 x 20 minute IM pace blocks as part of a longer ride.

Author Matt Fitzgerald explains that the reason we do high-intensity training at taper time is to keep the ‘nervous system primed’ for the stress of racing. Without some intervals and short bursts of speed/effort, the nervous system can be shocked and as a result muscle output reduced, leading to a feeling of a lack of ‘oomph.’

I managed a few little intervals on Zwift; and had a go at swimming at IM pace (slow). One element of training I’ve missed this time round is threshold and interval running, as this has been done on the bike, so there’s little value in introducing speed now. My running has taken a bit of a nosedive with IM training, and I will be slow, but I’m an endurance woman, and plod or not I’ll keep going.

  1. Stick to your training routine

Taper is not the time to down tools. As stated above, it’s about dropping back without dropping off – a balancing act between letting your body recover and losing the edge. So if you’ve done three of each discipline, still do three sessions of each discipline but you may be cutting the hours spent overall by half.

I have to be honest I didn’t stick to my sessions. But in week one of taper I managed to hit 7.5 hours in training (compared to 15 in the previous weeks), and in the week before, I’ve managed one pre-travel Zwift/brick, and hope to ride/run/swim in Barcelona.

  1. Expect to feel flat, tired, unfit and negative!

When you reduce your volume of training you can expect to feel lethargic, sluggish, with a body like lead. You may also feel negative, depressed or completely hyper! You may experience and notice a lot of niggles.

I’m an experienced taper’er from my years of marathon training and know what to expect in terms of mood swings, negative thoughts, anxiety, feeling like lead and slow and sluggish. I’m obsessed with the fact that I’ve not run enough, and my knee is hurting, my back is stiff and my shoulder (where I broke my collarbone) is sore. I’m hoping all of the above is psychosomatic than injury. Hopefully this means it’s a good taper.

  1. Remind yourself why

Greg Funnell, (I think one of the best sports therapists in Sussex), asked me, why I’d wanted to do the Ironman. I started talking. I told him I wanted a challenge, I wanted to give my body a rest from repetitive marathons. My running had gone stale and I was looking for a new challenge. I like getting out of my comfort zone and learning new skills. Then I told him I wanted to be competitive in my age group.

I’d put this last goal out of mind as soon as I came off the bike with 10 weeks to go. And as the race approaches it’s the first time it’s popped back in. The reality is I’m not going to be anywhere close to being competitive for my age. I’ve not done enough running, I’m not strong enough on the bike and my swim, is very, very average. But I’m on the start of that journey. It may take quite a few years!

So that goal is on hold! For context, last year the winning V50, super iron woman Gill Fullen finished in an incredible 9.53. But the top 10 in my age were all under 10.30. I’ve been looking at times for V50 women in other races, and they’re all around the 10-10.30 mark – which I’m definitely not.

But, my body is rested after all that running. And I do feel stronger. I’ve also learnt new skills, and it’s been a challenge – and it will be a challenge on the day. I’ve met new people and I’m proud that I’ve learnt to do triathlon, which has taken me well and truly out of my comfort zone and helped me feel the fear and do it anyway on several occasions. All being well (it’s a long day so that’s a massive assumption), I’ll get around the course with a smile on my face, that’s today’s goal.

  1. Feel the fear – and let it go

I’m a natural worrier, and triathlon has made me see this in technicolour (my vivid imagination has seen dead bodies whilst open water swimming, horrific accidents on the bike etc). Chatting to Marketing client, Celia Boothman, from LTR coaching helped. She reminded me to break down my fears. Mine is coming off the bike – or having a mechanical that puts me out of the race. She got me to talk it through, what would happen, what would I do, what could I do to stop it? A simple action is to practising taking off the wheel on my TT bike when I get to Barcelona. I also know it’s going to rain, and it hasn’t rained for some time, so I will hold back on the greasy roads. Another technique is to make your worries small. I try to step out of my head and look down on the race, from a bird’s eye view. I see all the participants like ants, and I know everyone has a story. Someone will thrive and race hard on the day, all will work hard to finish, some won’t finish. Whatever the outcome, perspective is required. It’s all about learning and facing each challenge as it comes.

  1. Give yourself time

When planning for a big endurance event give yourself two weeks to eat, sleep, drink recover, celebrate. The physical and mental preparation is done, on the long runs, on the bike, on the 4K pool swims. All that counting is done… now relax.

We arrived in Barcelona yesterday and I was exhausted after travelling (add in taper tiredness). Today we’re unpacking and setting up bikes, going for a ride, a dip in the sea, and registering. Tomorrow will be sea swimming and expo, and Saturday rest and eat.

Greg has given me some stretches to do for my tight hip flexors and stiff back, and he reminded me to use the time to relax and breathe and get my body ready for Sunday.

  1. Fail to plan, prepare to fail

I hate this expression as it has a hint of the school ma’am and can be judgemental – however, it’s true. Do what you can to help yourself be race ready. In the past, I’ve devised spreadsheets to try to set my body-clock for the race (over planning and didn’t stick to it), and I’ve written lists of essential items (this is useful!). Other things to consider are getting your bike in for a service; planning for medical mishaps (I have nurofen for migraines, plasters for falls, cold sore cream for when I’m run down, and of course Lemsip); practising race pace, transition, and mentally visualising yourself on the course. We also headed to Barcelona three weeks before and did a reccy of the bike course, but that’s now changed, so the plan is to drive to the new bit of the course and check it out (they’ve added hills!). However, if you do ‘fail’ don’t judge yourself too harshly. And please, please, do not say this to someone who’s completed 140.6 miles in however many hours, and had a mishap. Whatever your outcome celebrate, and be sure to congratulate all your fellow (often less than perfect) endurance friends.


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