It’s taper time

As our triathlon athletes head into the final two weeks before Busselton 70.3 on the 7th May, it is time for them to enter a period of reduced training, known as a taper.

A taper involves either reducing volume or intensity (or both) over a period of time so that the athlete is fresh and ready for peak performance come race day.

In the weeks leading up to the taper an athlete has been increasing both the volume and intensity of their sessions. They are likely to have noticed increased fatigue & possibly a reduction in form or performance and it is now time to turn this around in preparation for the race.

Taper length varies for the the type of event from a couple of days for a sprint triathlon up to a couple of weeks for a half ironman or ironman event. It is very dependent on the individual & what works for them but for a half ironman, such as Busso, I will generally reduce my athletes work load (both volume & intensity) to approximately 60% of the previous week for the 2 weeks leading up to the event.

Tapers can create all sorts of interesting behaviours in athletes. Some become increasingly irritable and moody & some develop phantom pains & niggles. Some people start to second guess their training and whether they have done enough and try to start putting in extra sessions at the last minute. No matter what the behaviour is, as the athlete continues further into the taper period they should be feeling progressively more energised! 🙂

There are two dangers as an athlete tapers;

  1. The athlete, full of beans, goes out and does a workout way too hard increasing both fatigue and the risk of injury.
  2. The athlete becomes stale after a period of relative inertia (we all know how hard it can be to get going after a few days off).

The trick is to balance the taper training out. Just enough to keep the athlete interested and ticking over with decreasing fatigue levels, without them getting too used to being glued to the couch. Short sessions with a few small efforts are a great way to do this.

Now my tips to athletes (from both an athlete and a coach perspective) for getting through a taper and making it to race day happy and healthy…… 😉

  • Sleep lots and lots and lots…. Sleep as much as you can!
  • Enjoy the rest, you will need it for race day but don’t forget to concentrate on hydration and nutrition.. If you start eating crap, you will start feeling like crap.
  • Take the extra time for preparation. Gear lists, race plans, equipment checks, food/hydration.. write lists, don’t leave anything to chance or last minute panic stations when you are likely to forget something as the nerves grow.
  • Try to ignore the crazy. Don’t worry about what other athletes are doing. Have faith in yourself and your training. Just because someone on strava has just done a massive workout 4 days out doesn’t mean it is right or that you have to do it!
  • Understand that you have been working hard for a long time and the reduction in training may start to play a few mind games with you. Remember, you aren’t alone feeling what you are feeling. Talk it out with your fellow athletes and your friends and family.
    • Try not to second guess your training, it makes no difference now anyway!
    • Don’t ignore the niggles or the sniffles but understand that things can be a bit magnified as your nervousness grows closer to the event and as your energy levels grow! Phantom pains are common!
  • Be excited, it is a big deal but try and conserve energy for race day. Relax, listen to music and spend your time doing stuff that is relaxing and non triathlon related to settle yourself.

Lastly enjoy this time! Taper is a rite of passage for a big race! 🙂 🙂 You are in the home straight. You have done the hard work so this is the point in your preparation that, corny as it is, you dare to dream!!

Happy dreams, happy taper!

See you race day, full of beans!


Peta from Energise Coaching is a Triathlon Australia Development Coach and an Athletics Australia Intermediate Recreational Running Coach. She offers personalised training programs for triathlon/swimming/running, generic training plans and structured run sessions for all levels and abilities. Contact Peta and ask what she can do for you!