Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ironman Utah Taper--Here we go again...

I find myself deep into the taper for my 3rd Ironman. How the hell did I get here? Yes, it's that time again. I love the cyclical rhythms of Ironman training. And revisiting old topics with a fresh perspective. It's time to revisit the taper.

What is a “taper? Tri Fuel says:
"Tapering means reducing training volume prior to a goal race in order to facilitate total and complete recovery. You should incorporate a taper a week or two prior to A race(s). The length of the taper will depend on the length of your event; the longer the event the longer the taper length. From a training stand point there is nothing you can do the week of a goal race to physiologically increase performance but there are many opportunities to reduce it."

Obviously, since the importance of the taper has been continuously drilled into my head, "The Ironman Taper" by Alun Woodward in May's Triathlete, advocating to taper less or not at all caught my eye. Woodward states there is "clear evidence that a shorter taper is most beneficial for endurance athletes" going on to say that the 3-week taper advocated for Ironman athletes was developed for marathoners, not long-distance triathletes, and should therefore, be re-examined.
Not too sure what the "clear evidence" is but I'm still not a believer. Woodward explains that the standard 3-week taper was adapted from marathoners. Because overtraining is the norm for marathoners, and it takes 3 weeks to recover from overtraining, the 3-week taper came into existence. Funny, I seem to recall being overtrained at the beginning of almost every taper I've ever done (except this one, of course). Not sure how that discredits a 3-week taper for Ironman athletes as I believe most of us are just as, if not more, overtrained than marathoners.
Woodward also states that speed and strength comes slowly and is lost slowly, whereas endurance is easy come, easy go. "This ability to gain endurance rapidly, though, cojmes with the caveat that we also lose it swiftly. This is why the three-week taper fails for Ironman. We know from experinece that we start to see a decline in endurance ability within seven to 10 days." I have two issues with this statement. First, I've always been taught that endurance is the foundation to our fitness, which is why we log so many "base" miles in the winter before adding the "icing" (speed) to the cake at the end. Therefore, it is the speed that goes first and endurance that takes the longest to deteriorate. After 6 years of doing triathlon and coming back from illness or injury, I can attest to this. I can always manage to go out for a long-distance run but after a few weeks, I certainly won't be as speedy.
Second, the 7-10 day argument. Yes, it takes 7-10 days of complete inactivity to lose fitness. But that's not a taper. You still work out during a taper, just less. Fitness can be maintained for several months by continuing to work out periodically (indefinitely if you add intensity).
My fear is that the average over-trained triathlete (like myself), who hates to taper because of the accompanying anxiety and irritability, will read this article and use it as an excuse to drive themselves further into a hole. Most triathletes don't taper enough. True, taper does not mean 3 weeks of laying on the couch eating bon-bons. Then, you may have a problem. But if you're following the recipe (25% reduction in volume each week), and still swimming, biking, and running (just less), you're going to be great.
Now the benefits of a taper? Recovering from fatigue, replenishing glycogen, increasing muscle mass, mental freshness....that's a huge advantage, one I can't afford to miss.

Previous Blog Posts on Tapering:
Other How-To Taper Articles:
What to Expect During a Taper
by The Mark Allen

"Week One- You start to feel good. The energy system that raises your energy up for peak workouts will still be switched on but you will begin to build energy reserves because of the reduced volume of training. The result is that you will start to feel supercharged.

Week Two- The "respond" systems start to shut down that are normally active during high volume training. You start to go into hyper-recovery mode. Legs and arms can feel heavy. Motivation for working out can drop. But have faith�

Week Three- Your energy will start to come back and you will feel the spark and the spring come back into your mind and body. Remember, this is still not the time to test yourself. That will come in the race a week away.

Week Four- All of the rest pays off. If you thought week three felt good, this will blow your socks off. You will hardly be able to contain yourself. This is exactly what you want. You are now ready for your best race.

Remember, during your taper REST. Take naps (if possible), reduce the overall workload in your life (if possible). Avoid the temptation to fill your free time with a million other things. Rest means rest. By race day the goal is to be so bored with sitting around that you are bursting at the seams to get out there and mix it up with 1500 other athletes!

See you at the races!"

Mark Allen
6-Time Ironman World Champion


Diana said...

"Therefore, it is the speed that goes first and endurance that takes the longest to deteriorate."

I agree to this. Since I've got running on the back burner to pursue my kettlebell workouts my times are very slow for the runs, but I can still crank out longer runs. Nothing big, any where from 6-10 miles.
Increasing intensity also is true to maintain fitness. While the number or length of workouts may have gone down over the winter months, the intensity of kb's will keep the fitness level high.
Gee, can you tell I'm an avid believer in the kettlebell??!!!
Can't wait to read your post IM report!

Sherry said...

I took issue with that article too. Granted I only have two years of experience under my belt at this point, but already I am beginning to clearly understand what my body needs and what it doesn't. Those base miles = ultra important! I was actually able to take 1 full month off from running this past January due to injury and then pick things right back up like the injury never happened. Speed, well... lost a little there, but evidently not enough b/c I just turned in a surprise 5K PR.

I'm all for appropriate rest periods and sufficient tapers.

I'm excited about your upcoming race! Can't wait! Treat yourself well! Enjoy the R&R!!

Christi said...

Thanks for the information!

teacherwoman said...

Yes, thanks for sharing the information! Enjoy your taper!

Wes said...

I read that article too, and I thought huh? My coach prescribed me what I thought was some crazy stuff in the two to three weeks before Ironman, but she DID let me rest up good the week before the race.

I'm currently enjoying the Kool aid at the Endurance Nation. They're thoughts are its not a good idea to add speed and volume, which most people are doing at the end of their training cycle. They're motto is speed first, then volume!

Since I'm experimenting with this for my half IM in May, we'll see how she goes!!

Enjoy your taper!!! Stay sharp!!

ChrisCampuzano said...

great msg for me, thanks a lot dude˙﹏˙