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written by: Mark Allen
posted: 8/28/03

The Perfect Taper

The final touches to any training program come during the taper.  This is the period of your season leading up to a key race when you cut back your overall training volume and allow your body to absorb all of the hard work you did during your base building and speed phases.  Doing the right kind of taper is an art unto itself.

A taper is tricky because of what is happening internally when your body is given a chance to recover.  When athletes start to give themselves rest, the system in the body that responds to stress (which is the system that allows you to get up for big workouts) starts to shut down.  This is like working on the engine of your car. You cannot give the engine an overhaul while it is running.  You have to shut it off.

The same is true for our bodies.  You have to shut the "engine" off for it to recover and charge up for the big races.  And when you do this, you might feel like you are out of energy, sluggish, and getting out of shape.  THIS IS NORMAL.

This requires a readjustment of mindset.  Allow yourself to feel less-than-stellar.  It is just a signal that your body is repairing itself and getting ready for a big effort in a few weeks.  Resist the temptation to go out and test your fitness just to make sure you are not losing it.  As best as you can stick to the plan I will outline for you.  This is the toughest part of a taper...the rest.

The Perfect Taper

The perfect taper is about four weeks in length.  Yes, four weeks!  It is slightly different for each of the three sports because of the difference in recovery time each one of them needs.  Running takes the longest because of the impact.  Cycling takes less time, but is still longer than what you will require for swimming.

So the peak week of training, where you will have both your longest individual workout and largest weekly volume for each sport should be placed on your workout calendar as follows:

  • Running - largest training week should end with five weeks to go to your biggest race.

  • Cycling - largest training week should end with four weeks to go to your biggest race.

  • Swimming - largest training week should end with three weeks to go to your biggest race.
After each of these peak weeks, draw a straight line reduction in both the length of your long workouts and the overall weekly volume down to zero training two days before your race.

Letís look at how this would look for the long ride for someone who is training for an Ironman.  If you hit a peak cycling volume five weeks out (the week that ends with four weeks to go to your big event) is say cycling 250 miles and in that week you have a long ride of 6.5 hours, the next four weeks would look like this:

  • 4 weeks out: volume reduced to 210 miles, and a long ride should be about 5.5 hours.

  • 3 weeks out: volume reduced to 170 miles, and a long ride should be about 4.5 hours.L

  • 2 weeks out: volume reduced to 130 miles, and a long ride should be about 3.5 hours.

  • Race week: volume (excluding the race itself) should be roughly 100 miles, and a long ride (not including the race) should be no more than 2 hours.
What to Expect During a Taper

Week One - You start to feel good.  The energy system that raises your energy up for peak workouts will still be switched on but you will begin to build energy reserves because of the reduced volume of training.vThe result is that you will start to feel supercharged.

Week Two - The "respond" systems start to shut down that are normally active during high volume training.  You start to go into hyper-recovery mode. Legs and arms can feel heavy.  Motivation for working out can drop.  But have faith...

Week Three - Your energy will start to come back and you will feel the spark and the spring come back into your mind and body.  Remember, this is still not the time to test yourself.  That will come in the race a week away.

Week Four - All of the rest pays off.  If you thought week three felt good, this will blow your socks off.  You will hardly be able to contain yourself.  This is exactly what you want.  You are now ready for your best race.

Remember, during your taper REST.  Take naps (if possible), reduce the overall workload in your life (if possible).  Avoid the temptation to fill your free time with a million other things.  Rest means rest.  By race day the goal is to be so bored with sitting around that you are bursting at the seams to get out there and mix it up with 1500 other athletes!

See you at the races!

Mark Allen
6-Time Ironman World Champion

If you are interested in learning directly from Mark not only about fitness, but also about how to develop your mindset and focus for racing, Mark is presenting a workshop with Brant Secunda titled Fit Body Fit Soul on the beautiful island of Crete in Greece this coming October 26 Ė November 2, 2003.  In this workshop the themes of Sport and Spirit will be explored and experienced.  You will hear the real stories and experience for yourself the tools that Brant who is a shaman, healer and ceremonial leader in the Huichol Indian tradition from Mexico used to help Mark prepare for and win his titles at the Ironman.

For more information on this workshop and to sign up, call the Dance of the Deer Foundation at 831-475-9560 or visit