marathon training, triathlon training -

Ironman Training - Tapering for an Ironman Triathlon


I’ll get straight to the point: If you want to race well in an Ironman, you need to taper correctly!

The taper is the period of reduced training VOLUME before a major race. This period allows the body to fully recover (without losing fitness), so that maximum performance can be achieved on race day. I emphasize volume due to the fact that the intensity of your regime should still remain high. 

Too many athletes do it the other way around – continuing to perform long/slow distance work – whilst removing all sessions of a moderate to high intensity. BIG MISTAKE! Research has proven time and again, that for a taper to be effective, volume should be gradually reduced whilst keeping the intensity at pre-taper levels. 

During a taper, you may feel sluggish/lethargic etc, but take note: THIS IS NORMAL. Your body is adjusting to the changes. Don’t be tempted to go out and test yourself or push harder than your program indicates – you need to save your efforts for race day. Due to large reduction in volume during this period, higher intensity efforts will be short in length, and performed less often. 

Depending on the importance of a race, and phase of your training program etc., a taper will usually last for between 4 days and 4 weeks. The latter being for a major Ironman event.  

A good rule of thumb with an Ironman taper is to reduce the volume of your ironman schedule by 20% each week, starting 4 weeks out from the race. This will mean that in the week before the race, you are only performing 20% of your biggest volume week (DON’T DO MORE – and don’t be tempted to fill in the time with other physical activity either as it’s counterproductive). Keep in mind that the frequency of sessions also remains the same. Say, for example, your biggest week had you swimming 4km. In the final week, you would only swim 800m and then get out. In this last week less is better, you will not get any fitter. 

Another common mistake – Don’t rest the day before a race. Have your rest day 2-3 days before the race. This will prevent you from feeling sluggish on race day. On the day before the race, complete a short/easy session in each discipline and include some short sprints to ‘kick-start’ your fast twitch fibres (these do get used in the Ironman, especially towards the end of the race as your slow twitch fibres fatigue). 

Lastly, the length of the taper will differ between athletes, so ensure that you have determined your optimal strategy prior to your major half iron or ironman race.


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