Tim Don
Tim Don completing Ironman Hamburg. This was his first Ironman-distance triathlon since his accident last year, when he fractured his neck. Credit: Getty Images
Training > Long distance

How to taper for Ironman

Wondering what activities/fuelling you should do during your taper week, before an Ironman triathlon? We asked top Ironman pro Tim Don for his advice

Tapering! Man, it’s tough to get it right at every level, but especially before an Ironman when you only get one or two bites of the racing cherry each season. For me, it’s all about feeling good and resting. I’m a big believer that if you’ve done the hard work in the months leading up to the race, then less is more come taper week. For an Ironman, I’d actually do a 10-day taper before the race. 

 KEEP SOME INTENSITY

I like to keep some intensity in my training but do only half or a third of the volume on the weekend before the event, especially on the run and the bike. In the pool or open water, I’ll still swim 4-5km up to a few days before it starts, as I like to keep the feeling of the water. I’ll normally take the Wednesday or Thursday off before a race, but that’s often a travel day for me. 

BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF

A taper is such a personal thing. If you have a coach, you’ll need them to listen carefully to you, but you’ll need to be honest when informing them of your fatigue levels, and also about how you’re feeling before the race. The mind is a powerful thing; it can really help you when it comes to tapering for a race, or it can hinder you if you let it. Communication with your coach is key, but also communicate with your body!

DON’T OVERDO THE CARBS

In regards to fuelling, my many years (too many, ha!) in this game have taught me that keeping it simple is best. Eat as you would with a normal training load, but maybe add a bit more protein early in the week to aid your post-race recovery, and slightly more carbohydrates in the few days leading into the race. But there’s no need to go over the top – eating the whole of Italy’s pasta supply or all the white rice in China won’t do you any good. Also, don’t experiment with anything new that might not sit well in your stomach. 

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REMAIN HYDRATED

Hydration is also very important. If you’re at work, always have a bottle of water – or, even better, electrolytes to hand. Keep your legs up as much as possible, and if you don’t have to do something then don’t – save cutting the grass until next week, or arrange to go out for a drink with your mates after the race. Stay relaxed and calm, as the hard work is already done. Start to get things ready earlier in the week, so it’s not a mad rush on the Friday night, and control what you can control. As they say, piss-poor preparation = piss-poor performance.

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RECCE THE ROUTE

I always do the same swim, bike and run on the Tuesday before an Ironman, so that my training team can work out the numbers I need to hold on the bike, and the average pace-per-km I’ll need to aim for on the run. The last few days before the race are spent checking out the course and doing a few sharpeners in full race get-up, to check that I still feel fresh and good. This is a feel-good session. I normally err on the side of less, as that close to a race you can end up doing too much and messing it up come race day.

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