Monday, June 15, 2009

The Taper Caper...

So, it’s finally here. After six months of training and, prior to that, two months of marathon training for a marathon that was cancelled, it’s time for me to wind down.

Or is it?

Actually, no. The taper is the key part of racing. Taper time isn’t the time to pat yourself on the back and say well done. Tapering is an art form and one that takes more concentration and focus than the training itself which, frankly, anyone can do.

Tapering requires an athlete to reduce the amount of training so that, come race day, the muscles are packed with glycogen and the body has an overload of red blood cells (which the body is now used to producing) ready to be greedily devoured on that lovely Ironman course. However, it’s important to get the balance of training right and not lose the intensity or the focus. So, we’re training shorter but harder and, working on the ‘old dog, new tricks’ principle, that can be difficult to switch to after so long bashing out the miles.

But its important to concentrate and focus, especially as focus is one of the most overlooked aspects of Ironman racing.

Why focus? Anyone who has done an Ironman knows that the day is brutal – far, far more demanding than simply the sum of its parts. By the time you hit the halfway point of the marathon, it’s more than likely 33 degrees and you’ve already swum (swam?) 2.5 miles, cycled 112 miles and run 13 miles. All this on a few bottles of water, a couple of bananas and several cardboard like ‘energy’ bars and sloppy gels. So, by the time you reach this point, believe me, it’s hard to remember your name, let alone your race plan.

Focus is essential. Your plan must be drilled into you so that it’s second nature. You must know your pace and splits for all three events and you must be able to automatically re-calculate and adjust both as you find you’re not hitting them (for whatever reason that might be). Often this can be reducing pace to compensate for adrenaline surges and ensuring that the most debilitating time, the third quarter of the marathon, is catered for in terms of even the most minute body reserves. Everything counts at this point and, if you haven’t focused through the race, you won’t be able to get through it. Simple as that. So tapering effectively is an excellent way of sharpening focus and willpower and mastering your body’s desire to work harder. There’s a time to let your body run free and there’s a time to let your mind be boss. For now, it’s mind over matter.

Over the next two weeks I’ll be working through my race, practicing nutrition, transitions, puncture training, wearing the equipment I’ll be racing in… anything that will ensure that, come race day… nothing catches me by surprise. Of course, it will; it always does – but the more surprises you can eradicate, the better your chances of coming in on time.

Speaking of time, as you know, I’m aiming for a time of 10 hours and 15 minutes. Time to nail my colours to the mast… here are the splits I’ll need to hit to achieve that time.

Swim: 62 mins
T1: 5 mins
Bike: 5 hrs 20 mins (21mph average)
T2: 3 mins
Run: 3 hrs 45 mins

Which would bring me in at 10:15.

And what of this week I hear you ask. Actually, I don’t hear that – rather I hear Radio 1 playing in my office as I write – but you get my drift. Well, the week was a little fractured due to an over training wobble I had on Tuesday which I soldiered through on Wednesday, taking Friday and most of Thursday off. Over training is a monstrous thing, where suddenly nothing seems possible. Fatigue and grumpiness take over and sleep is impossible. There are ways and means of getting through, though and, with the help of Coach K and a few good nights' sleep I seem to be back on track. Here’s what last week brought:

Mon – 3.2 km endurance sprint pool session 1.5 hours
Tuesday – grumpy day. Half an hour on the bike and back home
Wednesday – Back2back 3.2km swim, 75 mile bike (20.5mph avg), 7 mile run at 7:23 min miles
Thursday – tempo 5.6 miles at 6:36 min/miles
Friday – day off just stretching and sports massage
Saturday – 2km swim, 30 mile bike, 65 min run
Sunday – 1 hour hilly bike session, 45 minute steady run

Total time training this week 14.77 hours.

Mucho congratulations this week.

To Tom and Helen for an overall 2nd and 4th respectively at the Cleveland Olympic Triathlon.

To Adam Bowden, team mate at Team MK, for coming 2nd in the Elite Group at The Windsor Triathlon – with the most appalling cut on his foot suffered when mounting the bike after T1. Well done mate.

To Boxy, another training mate at Team MK, for winning the Cardiff Sprint triathlon at the weekend. Fantastic result mate.

To Dan, my old university house mate, for completing his first Olympic distance event – The Windsor Triathlon – despite puncturing and taking a wrong turn (eh?) on the bike.

To Mark, another university house mate, who has just started a long held ambition of cycling from Lands End to John O Groats. Being Mark, though, he’s doing it via several hundred real ale pubs. Good luck to him and please visit his site in the links session on this page. It’s for an extremely worthwhile charity and, if you have a few spare pounds, he’s appreciate your support.

I think that’s it. Apologies to anyone I’ve left out and we’ll catch up this time next week.


runtilyoudrop said...

Think you will go faster!

Tom said...

Hi mate,

As usual your ability to describe our Iron dilemmas is uncanny!

Allow me to offer some rather good additional reading on the topic of tapering. You'll need to scroll down to 'The Science of tapering is an art... part one' and then read through to part eight, enjoy...


H said...

Agree ten-fold with tapering being mind over matter, because come taper time for me, my mind wants to do bugger all except watch cack on the box and and eat chocolate & ice-cream!! And although I don't do that I do feel a little irked that I can't seeing as I've done all of the hard work. Like you say though, the truth of the matter is the hard work is staying focused enough to not ruin the big day by doing too much NOR too little (very important, no use de-training yourself in those two weeks after all we Ironmen put into our training. Great blog Jev, happy taper xxxx

Mark said...

Have a good taper Jev, liked the post the other monday re loves...12 days and counting..forget Austria this is the real deal...very best of luck to you..stay eat eat