taper Rx

If there’s anything worse for a non-triathlete than having to hear about a triathlete’s workout, it’s having to listen to their taper* woes:

“I feel so lazy, all I did today was swim for 45 minutes and ride for an hour.” “I’m just feeling sooooo tired. My body needs the rest.” “I know this is good for me. I need to shed all the accumulated fatigue.” “I didn’t mean to start throwing staplers in the conference…I’m tapering.”

So if you want to win a triathlete’s heart, all you have to do is ask about their taper.

triathlon taper

Tapering is the PMS of triathlon. And as all women know, cures of all sorts lay through the doors of Target, or the local wine bar. But as I embarked on another taper week (for Sunday’s Ironman 70.3 Austin,) I bring you my latest taper cures: do’s and don’t’s to keep you happy (sane) and healthy (at race weight), and hopefully prevent you from throwing staplers at your colleagues.


1. Swim. A lot. This helps you get your training willies out without damaging your muscles, and if you swim easy, your cardiovascular system. Yesterday was my sixth straight day of hitting the pool or ocean, and though people have tried to enlighten me on this before, I’ve never realized it for myself. My feel for the water has never been better. Now, if I can only translate those 1:30’s to my race on Sunday.
2. Master the art of the low-alcohol cocktail. My current favorite is something I call the “Americano Light”: 1 ounce sweet vermouth, 1 ounce Campari, and 2 ounces seltzer water (or to taste). With only 127 calories and not very much alcohol, this drink won’t set you back or leave you groggy in the morning.
3. Think short, frequent, and intense. Keep workouts to less than 45 minutes, and include a few race-pace pick-ups in each session to remind your muscles what’s in store for them. Keep the frequency up, but take at least two full days off during the week before your race. During your workouts, focus on accepting your current fitness level. All you can do this week is keep it topped up by keeping the blood flowing.
4. Start packing early. I’ve learned that the probability of forgetting a race belt, visor, or sunscreen goes down in proportion to how many days I leave my suitcase open in the middle of my bedroom. Traveling to a race requires so many odds and ends. Be smart and get a jump-start. (Bonus: this will also help amping you up for your race.)
5. Review and plan. Take that hour you’d usually be spending hitting the trails and spend it reading notes from your last race. Take a quiet evening at home before you leave to write out your nutrition and pace plan. Even if you end up making last-minute changes, having a detailed plan will calm your mind and give you confidence.  


1. Start perusing triathlon training books. They’ll only make you feel like you didn’t do enough LT/SS/ER/PSS/KSS workouts and are therefore grossly under-prepared. (Yes, I am referring to a specific, and very good, book. Now is just not the time for it.) Instead, look over your training log, or if you don’t keep one, daydream about all those sessions you absolutely nailed.
2. Keep chocolate-covered-anythings in your desk drawer. Damn you Sprouts bulk bins and 3 pm munchies.
3. Weigh yourself. What’s done is done. And if you do, revert to “Do” number 1.
4. Start any new dietary approaches in hopes of shedding those last few pounds. Think eating raw or Paleo all week is going to make you faster? Wrong. You need carbs. The only thing you should be doing this week is eating healthy, whole foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
5. Subject others to your obsession. Unless your friends are a) doing the same race, b) have proven that they actually care about these things, or c) are the ones to first bring up the topic, spare them the details. As hard as it is to believe, there are other things to talk about. Plus, the distraction from your all-consuming RACE will probably help.

Depending on your level of experience and personal preferences, these may or may not work for you. As you race more, you’ll develop your own taper strategy. Take notes! They’ll come in handy next time.

*No, I’m not talking about jeans or the government stimulus. For triathletes, a taper is a 7-14 day period of rest leading up to competition.

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