How to taper for middle-distance triathlons

We explain how and why you should be easing off in the last weeks before your 70.3

Athletes prepare for Ironman 70.3 Wimbleball

Are you entering the final countdown for a middle distance race and wondering if you’re tapering properly? Read on for Joe Beer’s advice…


Tapering is a combination of reduced volume, high-intensity work, race prep specifics and nutrition loading specific to your event.

It’s a planned sequence that moves the athlete away from the average training week, and provides a session focus that will mentally and physically prepare you to race. Check out the following four steps for a successful taper.

Step one

Analysis of studies on tapering suggests that a two-week period dropping volume by 40-60% is an adequate taper. Dropping 20% or less has no effect, while a too severe drop in training (>60%) may make the athlete lose efficiency, confidence, and the ability to both pace and push themselves.

In practice, this means reducing the duration of sessions with a slight drop in training frequency, too. The hardest aspect of this is doing things like reducing the duration of your long sessions or coping with having logged fewer hours in your diary by the end of the week. But this is counteracted by step two…

Step two

The inclusion of high-intensity efforts in the taper keeps adversity in the forefront of an athlete’s mind, while also ensuring that training benefits are maintained despite the reduction of training in step one.

Plus, it allows the athlete to make judgments on racing intensity, heart rate and pacing. In effect, you harden yourself to be race-ready, although you avoid the rookie error of adding extra speedwork.

Keep the intensity work between 10-20% of training volume and don’t make speedwork mistakes. For example, overdoing downhill running or too many sprints on the bike.

Step three

Tapering is also the perfect time to refine race-specific preparation. This includes testing equipment that’s specific to each event, such as a race wetsuit in cold water, tri bike over similar race terrain and run shoes. You can then tweak suit fit, bike gearing, bike tyres, run lace tension and so on.

Although you’ll already be practising race-day nutrition, you can still figure out certain aspects of refreshment, such as what time breakfast best suits you pre-race or when to have a gel before the swim start.

Step four

Finally, nutrition-loading up until the race is something that has various levels of ‘seriousness’, depending on an athlete’s experience, goals and what’s been tested in training.

At the very least, you must ensure a regular carbohydrate intake, adequate hydration and sticking to foods that are normal to you in the lead-up to the race.

(Images: Ironman / Jonny Gawler / Getty)


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