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Triathlon Cycling: High or Low Cadence?

With the Tour de France just behind us and the top cyclists back in the news, much of the cycling and triathlon media will have made plenty of comments about the higher cadence at which top cyclists rides. Unfortunately, nothing has compromised the average triathlete’s ability to improve on their bike more than the common assumption that maintaining a higher cadence equates to improved performances on the bike regardless of the rider’s ability and fitness. Not only do professional cyclists compete at far higher power outputs than the typical triathlete, but they also do not have to run at the end of the bike and can afford to push their legs and body much closer to the point of exhaustion by the end of the bike.


To better understand the importance of cycling cadence and effort in triathlon, you first need to understand how your bike cadence relates to competing in a triathlon as a whole, and how changes in cadence impact your body while you train or compete.


The easiest way to visualize cadence and its effect on your body is to picture the bike segment of a triathlon as an amount of “work” to be done, like a huge boulder sitting in your backyard that you need to move from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible. You can equate trying to move the boulder in one exhaustive effort with trying to complete the bike segment with one enormous pedal stroke using a huge chain ring like the one John Howard used setting the world land speed record on a bicycle. The work you need to do to move that boulder in one go or to pedal that bizarre contraption is going to take a huge amount of muscular exertion that will exhaust you by the time you get to Point B.


Your other option is to break up the boulder into a large number of small rocks that you carry from A to B – you’re on the right track here, unless you break up the boulder into so many pieces that you spend a lot of time hurrying back and forth, increasing your heart rate and putting a lot of aerobic stress on your body as you hurry as quickly as possible to move all those stones. This equates to using a very high cadence to move from A to B on the bike.


The ideal strategy lies somewhere in between: That is, breaking the work up into many manageable-sized pieces so that you can move as much of the boulder with each trip from A to B and can complete the work in as little time as possible. In other words, the right cycling cadence balances the stresses placed on your aerobic system by higher cadences, and the stresses placed on your muscles using a low cadence.


To understand this a bit better, you can picture the contraction your leg muscle makes with each pedal stroke as momentarily blocking the flow of blood into and out of the contracted muscle. A short contraction (high cadence) enables blood to flow into and from the muscle more often, which supplies nutrients and oxygen to the muscle and transports waste products and carbon dioxide away from the muscles more often – but at the expense of a greater stress on your aerobic and nervous systems. All those contractions force the heart to work harder and the nerves to fire more frequently. Conversely, a longer contraction (low cadence) blocks the transport of oxygen and nutrients into the muscle and traps breakdown products in the muscle for a longer period – that’s the “burn” you feel when you are riding with a slow, high contraction. However, your aerobic and nervous systems are not taxed as much.


The right cadence balances these stresses so that you can apply the greatest amount of force for the longest possible time. But contrary to what you might expect, “manageable” in the above context does not mean “relative to my fitness level.” Manageable means relative to the amount of work you are doing – in other words, the right cadence for you is relative to how much power you can produce on the bike, which depends by and large on your fitness and cycling-specific leg strength.


In other words, don’t compare yourself to what professional cyclists are doing – instead, look at what you are able to deliver on the bike. The stronger you are, the more forceful the contractions you can make on the bike. The fitter you are, the longer you will be able to make these contractions. And the greater the sustained force of the contractions you can make, the more you need to increase your cadence and “break the work up into more pieces.”


There’s one more piece to the puzzle, however. Unlike cyclists, as triathletes we also need to consider our approach to cycling in context of what comes next and keeping in mind that our goal is not to have the fastest bike split, it’s to have the fastest possible overall time at the finish. What you do on the bike in triathlon has to be understood in context of the demands you face on the run, too.


The reality of our sport is that we are always running on tired legs. That means that trying to run with a more forceful, longer stride rate in triathlon will quickly lead to disappointment because your tired legs have much less to give after the bike you’ve just done!


Instead, if you look at run speed as the product of stride length x stride rate, the most effective way to run faster in triathlon is to increase your stride rate (which can be learned), rather than trying for a forceful leg contraction. The price on your body for this faster rate of contraction is greater fatigue in your fast twitch muscle fibers.


A faster stride rate also means your motor neurons fire more frequently, which over time more quickly fatigues your motor neurons. This results in less forceful nerve signals, which in turn results in less forceful muscle contractions. But there’s ways to stave off this fatigue – recent research indicates that nervous system fatigue can be delayed by reducing the rate at which your nerves fire (Postactivation potentiation: Role in performance, British Journal of Sports Medicine: Volume 38(4) August 2004, pp 386- 387).


What does all this mean? In a nutshell, you need to ride your bike in a way that reduces the stresses that you will encounter on the run and keeps those systems as fresh as possible. The slow contractions of a slower cycling cadence (think of your legs as boa constrictors squeezing powerfully to drive the cranks around) will recruit fast twitch muscle fibers to a greater degree, which spares your slow twitch fibers for the run. And because a low cadence fires your motor neurons less frequently, you will reduce nervous system fatigue and enable fresher, stronger nerve signals on the run, resulting in stronger run muscle contractions than you might otherwise be able to generate after riding with a high cadence.


As well, because slow twitch fibers don’t contract as explosively and by definition not as often, you reduce the strain on your aerobic system. By riding with a lower aerobic intensity, you also burn less glycogen and can preserve this muscle fuel for the run. Your lower heart rate will also save some of your capacity for lactate tolerance for the run segment of the race.


Is it really this straight forward? Well – yes and no! “Yes” because by and large, triathletes need to factor in all of the above and should opt for a slower cadence between 75-85 pedal strokes per leg, per minute. As well, most age group triathletes do not have the aerobic conditioning or strength to generate the kind of power that requires higher cadence. By training at a low cadence against high resistance, however, you will quickly develop leg strength while reducing aerobic stresses in training – in effect, you tip the balance in your training from a more catabolic (a “breaking down” of the body) type of stress (aerobic system stress) to a more anabolic (a “building up” of the body) stress.


If you are new to triathlon or if you have bought into the “high cadence” approach to cycling for a long time, you’re giving up an opportunity to train strength and recruit more muscle with each of those puny little pedal strokes you’ve been taking! Try a few weeks of pushing a bigger gear, maintaining your speeds while reducing cadence into the low 80’s or lower – remember, you are training for your race, and that means applying effort in a way to improve performance with a goal in mind. Simply turning over the pedals at a slower cadence will not lead to improvements if you’re not forcing the muscles to work harder at the same time!


At the same time, I said “No” above because there are exceptions to the low cadence approach as your cycling abilities improve. As well, the shorter the distance at which you compete, the higher the power you are able to generate. If you are in the top echelons of performance in your age group you will need to increase your cadence for sprint, Olympic and even half


Ironman events.


Putting all this together at ironguides, we use some fairly simple tactics and tools to improve our athletes’ cycling splits in a triathlon-specific way. One of the sessions most of our athletes see on a regular basis is best done on a spin bike or computrainer, or a windtrainer you can rely on to generate very high amounts of resistance. After a thorough warm-up, complete anywhere from 10 to 30 efforts of the following:


60sec against heavy resistance


followed by


60sec zero-resistance easy recovery


We assign a cadence of 40 to 45 pedal strokes per leg per minute for this session, with a note explaining that the cadence should be this low because the resistance is so high that you could not possibly push any faster! For example, a 40-45 Age Grouper we coach pushes 20 of these efforts at 520 Watts – no wonder he’s been winning all of his sprint races this year and frequently placing top five!


You can create variations of this approach by pushing a massive gear out on the road, too, for longer intervals and aiming for that “boa constrictor” feeling, while staying in the aero position to simulate your race position as much as possible. Your consistent efforts to push hard against resistance will recruit more muscle and train your bike-specific strength quickly. With a properly structured training program, your all out, high-resistance efforts over varying durations will not over-stress your aerobic system while they consistently develop your leg strength.


It’s important to remember that a “properly structured training session” does not mean that you should use power goals to outline the session. Instead, each athlete completes his or her assigned sessions on a “best effort basis.”


You can use your power readings to provide feedback on how you are improving over time or to quickly spot fatigue and track improvement. But it is the structure of each session that generates the physiological changes we are after, whether these are high-resistance short intervals that do not overly fatigue your aerobic system while developing strength, or longer time trials done at the end of long rides that develop lactate tolerance.


Putting it all together, if you want to improve your overall triathlon times and your abilities as a triathlon cyclist, you need to adopt a lower cadence than you would use if you were training purely for cycling.


• If you’re a typical age group triathlete, avoid emulating cycling styles and approaches that are used by the top professionals, especially in cycling. We triathletes lack the combination of specific cycling strength and fitness to implement these approaches effectively.


• Remember that your cadence on the bike as a triathlete can be tailored to take into account what the run demands of you. A lower cadence than a cyclist would use for the same power output will contribute to fresher fast twitch muscles and less-fatigued motor neurons, helping you run faster.


• As a triathlete, you can’t ride to exhaustion. Using a larger gear and lower cadence reduces your heart rate and spares glycogen, while leaving capacity for you to run longer at threshold levels.




E.Y.T. – Enjoy Your Training!

ironguides is the leading Lifestyle Facilitation company for athletes of all abilities. We provide coaching and training services, plans and programs, as well training education, health and fitness products to help you learn and live a healthy lifestyle. Come get fit with one of our monthly training subscriptions, event-specific training plans, coaching services, or a triathlon training camp in an exotic location! ironguides also provides Corporate Health services including Corporate Triathlons, Healthy Living retreats and speaking engagements. At ironguides, your best is our business!

Train with ironguides!

Personalized Online Coaching: Starting at USD190/month

Monthly Training plans (for all levels, or focused on one discipline): Only USD39/months

Event based training plans:

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Olympic Distance (USD65 for 12 week plan)

Half Ironman (R$95 for 16-week plan)

Ironman (USD145 for 20-week plan)

X-Terra (USD65 for 12-week plan)

Running Plans (10k, 21k and 42k – starting at USD40)

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How to Deal with Ironman Blues

By Coach Alun Woodward

Ironman is an epic undertaking and can take over our lives for a significant time period as we plan, train and mentally prepare for the big day! Not only does the training side take a huge commitment but there is so much more involved from making sure your getting the best nutrition to fuel your training, keeping your equipment clean and in good condition and also making sure other area’s of your life are maintained. For an athlete with family and working long hours this can mean very busy times in the run up to ironman, having this full on life suddenly stop after the event while we may crave it at times during training is usually greeted with despair after the race and leaves an athlete feeling lost and not knowing what to do. There is so much information on getting ready for this big day in your lives but very little advice and guidance on what to expect after ironman and how to deal with it.

Following your big day you will be sky high, remembering every little detail from the event and telling your story time and time again to friends and fellow competitors. This glory though does not last forever and along with the pain and aching muscles you will experience after the event it will fade and be replaced by a feeling of loss! Not only are you lost without a goal but so many friends family and colleagues will have been building you up to the event, always wondering and asking things are going, what your doing and usually in awe of the task your undertaking. Having this removed post event and just that return to ordinary life can be hard.

This is not a phenomenon just for ironman it is seen a lot with professional athletes when they retire from sport, this is an extreme example as sport will have been dominating their lives for years but at the very top level in sports like American Football there is a documented high incidence of depression following retirement.

Like anything in life when one thing has dominated our thoughts and daily routines for so long having it removed will lead to a sudden feeling of loss. Maintaining training and staying active can to some extent can help but it does not remove the feeling of loss and you will find these feelings wash over you again and again for a period of time, this feeling is the ironman blues.

So what can we do to overcome this and avoid these feelings?

Firstly when planning your season and especially your first ironman try to ensure that the ironman event is not the final event of your season, having one or two other goals following the ironman can be a big help in avoiding the ironman blues. Your goals do not have to be sport related they can be family or business goals just something significant for you to focus your time on after your ironman event.

A family event such as a holiday can be great immediately after the ironman. This is a great way to say thank you to family who have supported you during your training and no doubt suffered from your absence and distant behaviour at times while training. Also having a family holiday will allow you to fully recover from your event without the thought and temptation of training, being away from your normal training grounds and group of friends is a good thing at this time.

Once you are recovered and back to training its good to have some new goals to focus your training on and there are many different things you could look at either related to triathlon or not.

Strava has provided a great platform for setting mini goals and many of you will have used strava in your ironman training, maybe you have a favourite route and have always fancied having a go at seeing how high you can get up the leaderboard on your favourite segment but have never done a stand alone effort as it simply did not fit in with your training. Now you can focus your training on becoming as fast as possible at climbing or prepare for an all out 20min effort or 10mile time trial.

Off the back of your ironman training you will have a great aerobic base and a few weeks of work focussed on developing speed and pain tolerance will see some great performances over shorter distances. There is a great example of this at the famous Noosa triathlon which takes place over olympic distance 3 weeks after Ironman Hawaii, so many top australians following great performances at ironman have rested after the race and travelled out to complete at this event and had some of the best races of their careers!

Maybe you have always fancied seeing how fast you can run a 5km, the popularity of Park Runs taking place every Saturday morning throughout the country have made this event easily accessible to all and a change of focus to pure speed and pain tolerance over a 6 to 8 week time frame should see you get very close to your potential over the distance off the back of your ironman training.

Your events and goals do not need to be specially triathlon related, in fact having something outside of your triathlon goals can be a great motivator and help refocus your mind to a new task and avoid the blues altogether. Maybe its something that was risky to carry out when training for your ironman or something that would have effected your performance on race day.

A great example of this might be strength training, while you may have been doing this as part of your training maybe you have held off trying heavy weights as this does carry an injury risk especially when you would have gone into sessions heavily fatigued from your triathlon training. Developing the strength for a heavy squat or deadlift for example where a good sign of strength is to be able to lift 1.5x your own body weight – a great target for most individuals.

Maybe you have seen some athletes in the gym performing the olympic lifts, the Clean and Jerk and Snatch and always wanted to try this. Now would be a great time to look into doing this, these are very complex lifts and essential that you get some technique coaching to help you stay safe and lift effectively.

The olympic lifts can be a great addition to your training as they are full body moves that require speed, strength, muscle balance and mobility – working on all these areas will always have a positive effect on your triathlon performance once you start back into training.

A little planning of your time post ironman and you can easily reduce the effect of the post ironman blues or not suffer from them at all.

Enjoy your training

Train with ironguides!

Personalized Online Coaching: Starting at USD190/month

Monthly Training plans (for all levels, or focused on one discipline): Only USD39/months

Event based training plans:

Sprint Distance (USD45 for 8-week plan)

Olympic Distance (USD65 for 12 week plan)

Half Ironman (R$95 for 16-week plan)

Ironman (USD145 for 20-week plan)

X-Terra (USD65 for 12-week plan)

Running Plans (10k, 21k and 42k – starting at USD40)


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The Ups and Downs of Ironman Training

If you have ever trained or are in training for an Ironman, you will know that it is an experience like no other, especially if you are an ironguides coached athlete on a daily dose of The Method training programme.

Whether you are an Ironman veteran signing up for your 7th tour of duty, a top 70.3 age – grouper stepping up to race with the “big boys”, or a brand newbie that’s caught the bug and wants to get one under your belt ( “What’s all the fuss about?” ),  the demands of Ironman training will stretch you to your physical, emotional, psychological limits.

The Ironman training cycle is a crazy rollercoaster ride that can take you from good days, filled with hope and confidence to nightmare “off” days that will leave even the fittest athlete discouraged and questioning their ability to even cross the finish line.

This article offers advice on how to spot the patterns of overtraining and how to minimise the “down” days for a more balanced, manageable and effective training cycle.



If you are forcing yourself to get your sessions done for fear of losing fitness and you find yourself half-heartedly “going through the motions”, while getting more tired and desperate as your performance drops-  Listen up!

The most common presenting symptom of an athlete who is over-trained is not “Coach, I am so tired, I need a break”. Rather, it is “Coach, I’ve been training hard but I am not improving, I think I need to do more.” The athlete’s drive to excel is so strong that they end up burning the candle at both ends, giving up personal “down time”, recovery and sleep to maintain high levels of work, family and triathlon training commitment. From my experience, the most tell tale signs of an athlete that is overdone are:

  • Malaise and constant fatigue
  • Immune-compromised state
  • Unhealthy obsession with (lack of) improvement
  • Loss of enjoyment of the sport
  • Loss of trust and faith in their training
  • Continual weight loss
  • Decreased motivation
  • Flat/ jaded personality
  • Refusal to admit that they are over-done.

Without timely and well considered guidance, this athlete is headed for trouble.

The risk of overtraining is especially high in the last 6 weeks pre-race-  in the middle of the final loading phase. An athlete that has been training hard for the last 4 – 6 months will want to push even harder in order to “cram” in more training before you winding down and resting up for the big day. Here are 3 common situations that can make this last month and a half a tricky patch to navigate:

1)      Your dedication and consistency have paid off and you’re fittter than you’ve ever been. You feel invincible and the temptation is to push even harder through the “home stretch” looking for that last 5%.

Quick Fix: If you are feeling good at this stage keep up the good work and don’t bury yourself in the  “hardcore” tunnel. Aim to finish each session feeling great, keeping something in the tank for the next day. Aside from getting more rest- don’t change a thing! Unless you have planned it carefully with your coach, don’t turn up the volume or intenisty knob all of a sudden. Overreaching requires a carefully thoughtout recovery period.

2)      You only have a handful of weeks left before you need to taper. Your preparation has been a little patchy and your insecurities are surfacing.  You think that by hammering every session in the last few weeks will make up for lost time and missed sessions earlier on.

Quick Fix: Don’t panic. Speak to your coach and let him know exactly what has been going on and how you are feeling overall. Recap calmly what you have done and how far you have come since the start of your journey. Chances are that you’ve caught it early enough to salvage the race and you realise that you’re not in that dire a situation. Your coach will know how to tweak your plan to freshen you up while highlighting the key workouts that you must get done. At this point you may need to manage your race day ambitions but this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a great day out.

3)     Because of your high training load and the length of time that you have been at it, your body’s immune system, normally used to fight daily germs and bacteria, has been working overtime to regulate muscle and tissue recovery instead. As a result, you fall into an immune-compromised state and pick up colds and flus that don’t go away. You try to train through it but end up even sicker, performing worse and fearful that you’re losing fitness.

Quick Fix: Alert your coach immediately and spell out clearly how long you’ve been under the weather and what training you have done while ill. Your 1st priority is to return to 100% fitness. Load up on Vitamins and antioxidants, get as much sleep as you can and drop the volume of each session to a maxium of 40mins and back off on the intensity by a few nothces too. By doing this, you are are keep the relevant systems “open” and “warm” but not enough to affect your immunity any further.  Your coach should tweak your plan for a few days of “unloading”.

In all these situations, you will notice that bringing your coach into the equation is a critical and one of the the first things your should do. It will make the difference between “getting though the race” and arriving at the start line fresh, focused and full of energy. The sooner you speak to your coach, the quicker he can get you back on track rested and refocused on the end goal- your best performance on the big day. This brings me to my next point…


A coaches job extends much further than dishing out training plan after training plan. Don’t wait until you are a burnt-out zombie, shell-of-a-human-being before approaching your coach for help. Timeliness is key.

Your coach’s role is to get you as fit as possible for race day. At times, this might involve a gentle nudge or cracking the whip- at other times, his job is to rein you in from the edge of burnout or in the worst case scenario, nurse you back to health and sanity. A good coach will know:

  • Your personality/ lifestyle
  • Your current training load
  • How far along the training cycle you are
  • The current stressors on your life

At times, it is difficult to consider all these factors from inside the Ironman bubble so if you need a little extra guidance make the effort to elaborate on how your training has been going. Together with the usual training parameters and assessment of your current perceived level of fitness, some feedback on how you are feeling and your emotional state ( especially your doubts ) will provide your coach with a good insight into how you are coping and what you need to work on.

A good coach will not judge you on what training you have/ or have not completed. Stay open to your coach’s questions and suggestions and share openly with him your goals and motivations. If you catch it early and nip it in the bud, all that maybe required is a weekend off or a few days/ a week of unloading to get refreshed. But keep these things to yourself and you run the risk of digging yourself deeper into the lonely hole of overtraining.


Even before you sign up for an Ironman, there are a few simple steps to tip the scales in your favour.

The majority of age–groupers today work a demanding 10 hr day. Many are married / with a long term partner and have young families. Before jumping online at 4am to wait for registration to go live, examine your calendar 6 months before race day. Are you getting married/ having a child/ moving house/ country/ changing jobs/ starting a new business/ going to be involved in other big “life” situations? All these things will factor into your training, recovery and performance, especially the 2 months before race day. You will enjoy a much more balanced and successful journey if the forecast of life’s big stressors and events reads relatively “normal” and “boring”. Of course there is no way to predict the future, but an uneventful half year window is a good place to start your Ironman dreams.

Secondly, have that chat with your partner/ wife – The one that starts with “Baby/ Dear/ Darling, I am thinking
of doing an Ironman next year…”

It is of utmost importance that you have buy-in from your loved one because, as much as you think you’re doing all the hard work, they will be the ones playing a major supporting role. Extra understanding and support could make or break your race preparation.

Explain what is an Ironman and why you want to do one (or another one). It is important to give them an idea what kind of training hours are involved. This will help them to appreciate and give reason to what you will be putting yourself through. Your coach is the best person to advise you on the different time commitments required for the different phases a typical Ironman training cycle.

By including them into your decision making process, you are also giving your partner a time frame so that they can appreciate and be mentally prepared for those days/ weeks when you don’t need the extra distractions and social gatherings because you will be more tired than usual. In all fairness, it also allows them to look forward to when they can have a fully present and energetic partner back in their lives!

It is a good idea to take it a step further to roughly plan out your allocated training hours with them.  As you proceed, daily duties and responsibilities will surface, and together you will be able to discern much more clearly which are the most convenient tasks for you to stay engaged in to pull your weight.


I hope this article has given you some insights into some of the common pitfalls surrounding Ironman training and how to avoid them.  Training is not all a bed of roses nor should not be viewed as an excuse for unlimited hours of swimming, biking and running. To get it right and nail it on race day requires a delicate balance of training and recovery guided by a close working relationship with your coach and an understanding and supportive home base from which to launch your adventures and live your dreams.

Enjoy your training.

Shem Leong

Shem Leong


Train with ironguides!

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Personalized Online Coaching:  Starting at USD190/month

Monthly Training plans (for all levels, or focused on one discipline): Only USD39/months

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Sprint Distance (USD45 for 8-week plan)

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Half Ironman (R$95 for 16-week plan)

Ironman (USD145 for 20-week plan)

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Running Plans (10k, 21k and 42k – starting at USD40)

image-2132.jpgShem Leong is our ironguides coach in Singapore. He has been hooked on triathlon ever since winning his age group in his first Olympic-distance race. Many top performances later, Shem still enjoys the challenges of training and racing at a high level, while balancing this with work and family. He is a firm believer in the benefits of an active lifestyle and loves being able to positively affect his athletes’ lives in this way. In the four years that Shem has worked as an ironguides coach so far, he has helped more than 60 athletes achieve their goals. They range from newbies hoping to complete their first sprint race, to 70.3 podium contenders, to seasoned Sub 10-hour Ironman athletes. Shem’s care for his athletes and his attention to detail set him apart. He completely understands the varied pull factors of life’s demands as well as the fiery motivations that drive everyday age groupers and is able to craft sustainable, effective training plans for their time-crunched schedules. An Honour’s Degree in Health Science has given Shem the knowledge to explain and expertly administer The Method. This, in turn, helps his athletes understand how each session contributes towards their ultimate goal; as a result, countless personal bests have been improved upon as his athletes continually get fitter and faster.

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Race Preparation: Half Ironman Taper Tips




At this stage of preparation, with the months of hard work behind you and a mere 2 weeks until the big day, you should be at your fittest. You’ve done the late night track sessions, given up a social life for 5am bike rides, and rushed to the pool after work to get a swim in. Well Done! There’s not a lot more you can do to improve your fitness. But how do you handle race week so that you are feeling fantastic and raring to go on race day? Too much rest could see you feeling flat, lethargic and unmotivated, while too much training will not give your body a chance to freshen up. The taper is a period of reduced training load designed for your body to rest and repair while allowing the body’s natural physiological adoptions occur. You may have heard some athletes talk about “soaking up” all the hard work- this is what they are referring to.

When tapering after a long period of consistent training, our body’s transition from “fight” mode (training) into “heal” mode (tapering); the cardiovascular and muscular systems that are constantly being stressed for greater adaptation start to wind down and enter a state of deep rest. The hormonal balance in your body also changes as the hormones released to sustain the high levels of physical exertion during training drops, while the level of “restorative” hormones increases. Your muscles will also start to “gum up” as they lay down healing connective tissue. This is why it is important to keep moving and the reason that we don’t take extended periods totally off during a taper. Essentially, we want to do as little as possible (allowing for maximum rest) while still keeping the systems switched on and just ticking over in the background.

These changes translate to a sensation of fatigue and lethargy in the body that is often experienced in the 1st few days of your taper. Your body will feel sluggish as you have been used to a very high rate of oxygenation and movement of fluids. Your metabolism will be out of whack too because the amount of energy you are used to expending drops. Your digestion will feel a little off, your head foggy, and you feel all the little aches and pains that the season’s training brings with it. Knowing why it’s happening and expecting these changes to take place is important because it will help you stay cool and not freak out. In fact, what would be cause for concern would be if you didn’t feel these things at all!


1. Keep moving and stay loose. As a rule, cut down first on intensity (the most damaging), then volume and lastly, on training frequency. Tapering is not a period of complete rest. 10 days of doing nothing will see you very well rested but also feeling flat, lethargic and possibly carrying a few extra kilos.

Once you get to race week, it’s a matter of getting plenty of rest but not letting your systems shut down entirely. Maintain the same frequency as your regular weekly training cycle to keep the engine purring. Almost all sessions are done at the easy effort level for 50 – 30 mins in duration – with the only exception being a longer and very easy 90 min bike ride in the 1st half of the week.

Throw in a few short efforts in each of the disciplines to keep your muscles firing and familiar with the effort on race day. Short 5 min race pace efforts work well at the start of the week, while harder 30 – 90 sec bursts are good to fire up the legs/ arms towards the end of taper week. Keep everything else easy. You want to perform the sessions hard enough just to tease out the right physiological response to keep that system ticking over.

All the training sessions that you put in the last week should leave you hungry to do more. In a sense, you’re teasing your body to build energy levels up before the full race day effort. Do not hammer yourself on any sessions during this time to “test your fitness”. Trust in the many hours that you have already put in.

2. Travel days are stressful enough so you can take this day completely off or just strap on the shoes for a 20 min easy run after settling in- just to loosen up the legs.

 3. Adjust the size of your meals to account for the decreased activity levels. ) Watch what you eat during taper because your training load (and the subsequent calorific replacement rate) is significantly reduced. You won’t get away with stuffing your face after a short session, even though, out of habit, you may feel like it.

 4. Try to keep taper week free of stressful occurrences. Make sure everything is settled on the work and family front early. Mentally (and physically) you want to be in a relaxed place so that you can spend time rehearsing your race strategy and nutrition plan. Visualise different sections of the race and remind yourself of what to expect and how you want to be feeling and how you are going to react, in terms of pacing, motivation and nutrition, at each of these ‘check points’.

5. The fitter you are, the more susceptible you are to common bugs, colds and flus and the more easily we get sick (I’ll explain why in another article). Diet – wise, top up on loads fresh and colourful fruit and veg to make sure you’re getting the vitamins and anti-oxidants required to keep our immunity high. A daily multi-vit is also a good idea.


1. Don’t plan your family vacation before your race. A few relaxing days by the beach is fine, but a 2 week hiking tour in New Zealand/ Europe/ Canada/ USA is not a good idea.

2. Avoid taking a total day off the day before the race. If you feel like you need it, two days out is better. Do a little touch in each discipline the day before, just to get the engine warmed up.

3. Mental fatigue from the Ironman hype: While the Ironman “circus” is part of the experience, it doesn’t mean that you have to be breathing triathlon 24/7 for the entire week before the race. Being on your feet, swapping stories about racing and training, considering late equipment changes from the expo sale, etc etc… all that is going to zapp your energy big time.

4. Stay low-key – I recommend getting to the race venue as late as possible so that you have a limited time at to hang out at the Athlete Village. Limit yourself to one pass – buy all the souvenirs/ supplies you want, take photos of that new bike, go hassle some Pros, and catch up with all your friends on their training and racing. Then leave it, get out of there and avoid going back. Booking your accommodation a few miles away from the race area helps too.

 In conclusion, stay cool and level-headed and move smoothly through any last minute hiccups that you may encounter. All training sessions need to be conservative and should not incur any muscle damage/ fatigue at all. Save your energy, trust in your training and mentally prepare to ‘go there’ on race day.

Good Luck!


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