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Ironman Hawaii Taper

By Roch Frey

October is nearing once again and the grand daddy of them all, the race that put Triathlon on the map and into the somewhat norm or recognizable view of your average football watching Joe via the TV coverage over the years is so close you can smell the Coconut suntan lotion and feel the heat radiating from the 120+ degree King Cam highway. The Hawaii Ironman, held this year on Saturday the 3rd of October, is the highlight of more than 1500 triathletes and the final race of what has been a long 7-9 month season. Tapering for a race is an art that unfortunately is not black and white and can either exemplify all that training you've put in with a great or not so great race. Now add this to a race at the end of the season that is physically and mentally more challenging along with the hype that surrounds it and the taper gets even more difficult to nail.

The basic principles for all tapers are the same. In pursue of that great race after all the consistent and race specific training you need to taper off your workouts allowing you to rest and recover both physically and mentally. A gradual decrease in the duration of your overall training, maintaining the frequency of training sessions, and race specific intensity key training sessions are the essential elements of a proper taper. The tricky part is when you try to taper for the Ironman Hawaii with it falling at the end of the season. That ten-day taper that was successful in May for the Wildflower Ironman or Ironman Lanzorote may not work as well late in the season. By October you have been training and racing for 6-8 months and have a greater accumulation of fatigue which takes longer to recover from and properly peak for an Ironman race. Most mortals will need a 3-week gradual taper.

Counting down 21 days, or three weeks, from race day you should start the taper with a reduction of about 30% in your total 1st week's duration of training sessions. Keep the frequency consistent with your normal workout schedule while reducing the duration of the sessions. You should try and perform one workout in each sport that is specific in terms of intensity during Ironman but shorter in duration. A steady 3-4 hour ride, 60-90 min run, or a swim to the Shores and back (about a 2 mile swim from the cove in La Jolla to the Shores and back) performed throughout the week will take place of your key training sessions. The intensity of these sessions should be close to your race pace, maybe even a little harder. Be careful not to over do it. Your not training for a 40km time trial so that max effort 4-hour group ride may leave you overly fatigued.

The second week goes about the same as week one with a further decrease in duration of workouts another 20-30%. Your training sessions are now about 50% of what they were during the peak of your training. Stick with one specific training session in each sport throughout the week to help further drill that race day pace into your head. This is mostly true for the swim and bike as once you hit mile 16 deep down in the bowls of the energy lab, there are few that are still running close to there pre race goal paces.

The final week of your taper will probably take place in Kona. It is vital to acclimatize to the heat and humidity. This usually takes 6-10 days. The week before should consist of daily short workouts in all three sports. Your total volume of training should be around 70% of your top training weeks. This is once again a 30% reduction in training from the previous week. As long as you keep the workouts short and easy (30 min swims and runs, 60 min rides) you won't tire yourself out. Instead you will stay loose, maintain the feel in all disciplines and release some of that nervous energy. Be cautious, as you will see people training all hours of the day and be tempted to train a little faster and longer than needed.

Goals for race day are great to have and very important, but too lofty of performance goals, especially for Ironman Hawaii can be disastrous. Hawaii is like no other Ironman in that it is performed in a very bizarre place. Yes, the island is amazing but to race for a full work day in 90% humidity, 120+ heat and trade winds that gust at times of up to 60mph are not the most ideal conditions. First thing to remember is to leave your goals at home. You can not control the conditions and if windy and hot like in 97', you can easily become discouraged. Plan to race to your potential and deal with what race day dishes out. Stay "with it" and positive at all times knowing that you are not the only person hurting and wondering what the &*%#@ you are doing out in the middle of a lava field in Speedo rather than laying by the beach drinking Blue Hawaiians.

Sodium intake has been the focal point of many discussions and articles recently. For years ultra distance runners have been adding sodium to there pre race meals and during the race to help reduce the chance of hypotnatremia (low sodium blood levels). I recently competed in a 50-mile race on Catalina Island. The main food of choice at the aid stations were heavily salted pretzels and small boiled potatoes with a bowl of salt near by for dipping. As it is true that your body will regulate the amount of salt loss through sweating in hot and humid conditions with acclimation, some people sweat more and will thus lose more sodium than others. This can and has on several occasions caused hyponatremia in triathletes while competing at Ironman Hawaii leaving them far from there personal best times. A simple addition of some extra salt to your food the week prior to race day along with a conscious consumption of sodium during the race (through electrolyte drinks or other foods or drinks high in sodium) should fend off low blood sodium levels. It is very important to take in some extra fluid with the increase in salt intake to help dissipate the sodium throughout the body and to keep you from becoming dehydrated. Sodium intake alone will not help you out on the course. Remember: you are racing for 8-16 hours in severe conditions of heat, humidity and physical exertion, not sitting in front of the TV watching the Chargers.

Do's and Don'ts in Kona:

Gotta do;

  • Use the electrolyte drinks and other nutritional products that will be supplied on race day throughout the weeks prior to the race while training. Whether you are planning to use for energy and drink what the race is supplying at the aid stations, or carry your own food, you need to experiment during training to determine how they will sit deep down in your guts incase that great concoction you have been using and loving throughout your training just wont stay down. It is confirmed that the electrolyte "Race Day" and gel packets "GU" will be used in 98 Ironman Hawaii.
  • Go for at least one run in the heat of the day. Try a 30-40 min shuffle either in the pit or in the energy lab at high noon to help you acclimatize to the conditions and to give you a taste of what to expect around 2 or 3pm on race day. Do this run no closer than Tuesday (4 days prior to race day) as your gonna sweat like crazy and it may affect your race if performed any closer to race day.
  • Cake yourself in a good sunscreen race morning when you first get up. Race organizers tell you not to apply any until after you have been body marked, but don't worry, the numbers will stay on and still give you a funny looking tattoo for several days after. The alternative is very uncomfortable and unhealthy. Who wants leather for skin at the age of 40?

Maybe shouldn't do:

  • Several athletes are going back to a one-piece tri-suit or wearing cycling shorts during the bike. This is great, but do not plan on throwing them over your bathing suit bottoms after the swim unless you have practiced this combo during training. I made this mistake once and raced through extremely uncomfortable riding sores that started early on and worsened that already long ride through the lava fields. Practice prior to race day or do a quick change after the swim.
  • Don't draft intentionally or interfere with the elite women. The second part goes out to the male population that finds themselves on the bike with several of the pro women. Egos are a bad thing at times and need to be controlled on race day. Firstly, you are not racing the women, but the other men in your age group. Secondly, if you try to stay with another triathlete that passes you, whether male or female, you could wreak your whole race by going to hard let alone get both of you disqualified. Let the women race the women. They are there trying to make a living and shouldn't have to worry about the egos of others getting in the way of their race. I can say this, as I was once the guilty party in a race way back in 87' at the Vancouver International Triathlon. My first race as a professional, the males left two minutes in front of the female pros. All didn't go as planned and halfway through the run I could hear the lead motorcycle for the fist female approach. As Erin Baker passed me I was determined to not be taken down by a female. I sat on her heals and at one point clipped her heal. Fortunately her shoe did not come off and after I out sprinted her to the finished she didn't drop me with a stiff punch. I could have caused her to lose the race all because of my gender driven ego.
  • I have said it before and I will say it again: Don't wear your bathing suit while training. Save it for race day. Enough said.