Ironman Taper Tips & Pro Taper Comparison of Ben Hoffman and Jesse Thomas

The Ironman taper, this might be the hardest thing for beginner triathletes to do properly. I don't know what it is about Type A personalities, but so many of us just can't relax.

Some simple tips for your taper:
  • Aim to reduce your volume by about 30-50% of your peak training volume starting 2-3 weeks out.
  • Keep the frequency of the sessions the same. Reduce the volume and intensity of the sessions. 
  • Relax, less is often more.

Below is a comparison of two tapers from two superstars before the 2016 Ironman World Championship. Ben Hoffman finished 2nd (2014) and 4th (2016) at the Ironman World Championships as well as being an Ironman and Ironman 70.3 Champion.  Jesse Thomas is a six-time Wildflower winner and Ironman and Ironman 70.3 Champion.

I have highlighted some key sessions to help with readability. This is reverse engineered from their Strava accounts. Ben doesn't include his pool swimming so I can't say what he did for that. What I want you to keep in mind while looking at this is that these guys can easily push 370-380 watts and run 5:10-5:15 pace for an hour. They are fit and they do this for a living. Ben Hoffman came in training consistently 30 hours a week with weeks up to 40. Jesse Thomas has been training in the low 20 hours a week. 

Day Ben Hoffman Jesse Thomas
Wed Day 10 Run:  Aerobic build, 13.5 miles, 1:30, building from 7:00 pace to 6:05 pace

2:11 ride / 37 miles
Travel to Kona

Bike: Shakeout spin. 55 mins, 17 miles, 130 AP
Thu Day 9 Bike: Aerobic ride with 1 hour at race wattage (295). 58 miles, 3h10m, 201 AP / 250 NP

Run: 30 minute transition run at 7 min pace 
Bike: Easy ride, 2:00, 42 miles, 180 AP / 205 NP. 7 min effort building from Ironman watts to Ironman 70.3 watts. Additional build effort at 3:30

Run: Aerobic steady run. 5.3 miles, 39 mins, 7:15 min pace.

Swim: 47 min, 3200 yards, 1000 yards at race pace (1:15/100)
Fri Day 8 Run: Steady aerobic run just below race pace. 8.5 miles, 1h, 7:05 pace

Bike: Easy spin, 1hr 113 AP / 132 NP
Bike: Easy spin, 10 miles, 45 mins. 110 AP / 130 NP

Swim: Swam course, 4200 yards, 1:01:30
Sat Day 7 Bike: Shootout group ride, 72 miles, 3:22, 207 AP / 253 NP, with 40 mins at 337 watts for hard section of Shootout

Run: Transition run, 5 miles, 33 mins, steady at 6:30 pace

Travel to Kona
Bike: Aerobic steady effort, 64 miles in 2:40, 246 AP / 258 NP.

Run: Transition run, 3 miles, 19 mins, descend 1-3 from 6:15 pace
Sun Day 6 Run: Shake out run, 6.5 miles, 50 mins, 7:43 pace

Run: Aerobic, steady, 7 miles, 50 min / 7:08 pace

Swim: OWS 3200 yards / 48:22
Mon Day 5 Swim: OWS steady cruise with a couple of pick ups, 3k, 42 mins,

Bike: Aerobic, steady, 50 miles, 2:20, 218 AP / 232 NP 
Bike: Easy spin, 21 miles, 1:12, 120 AP

Swim: Easy swim, 2k, 40 mins
Tue Day 4 Run: Aerobic, steady, 8.5 miles, 1:00, 7:00 pace Run: Race simulation run in Energy Lab, 5.6 miles, 38 mins, 6:41 pace

Swim: steady aerobic swim, 3k, 42 mins
Wed Day 3 Bike: Easy ride with 2x10 mile aerobic efforts (230 watts), 40 miles, 1:52, 208 AP / 220 NP

Run: Transition run, build to race pace, 3.8 miles, 26:16, 6:49 pace
Bike: Race pace efforts, 1 hour with 2x10min build from Ironman pace to Ironman 70.3 pace with 5 minutes spin between. 1:03, 22 mi, 213 AP / 238 NP
Thu Day 2 Run: 5.2 miles, 37:34, 7:09 pace, run steady with some natural efforts from elevation

Bike: 45 mins with short natural race pace effort from climbing
Run: Run easy, Underpants. 2.8 miles, 37:24, 12:55 pace
Fri Day 1 Bike: 45 mins with 10 min effort climbing at about race pace (280 watts). 175 AP / 222 NP

Run: Transition run, 2.5 miles at race pace, 16 min, 6:37 pace
Swim: Easy swim with 150 yards hard in the middle, 739 yards, 12:23

Bike: Easy ride, 13.5 miles, 44 min, 157 AP / 189 NP

Run: Short run finishing at race pace, 1.5 miles, 12 min, 7:22 pace. Build to race pace. 
Sat Race Day Swim 2.4 miles, Bike 112 miles, Run 26.2... Brag for the rest of your life!!! Swim 2.4 miles, Bike 112 miles, Run 26.2... Brag for the rest of your life!!!

At first glance this may seem like a lot of sessions, but that is a key component to the taper. Again, you first and foremost keep the frequency of the sessions about the same. What changes in the taper is the volume and intensity. Although it may not seem like it, the total volume has been reduced to about 50% of the peak for these two athletes.

Volume only tells one part of the equation, the other part is intensity. Many of Jesse's efforts may seem big, but for Jesse these efforts are at his race pace for Ironman. While they may be Zone 4 or Zone 5 for you, they are no more than high Zone 2 / low Zone 3 for him. In addition they are not long. His longest effort is about 10 mins at race pace.

Add caption
Ben Hoffman's last big workout is on the Saturday before the race at the historic Shootout group ride in Tucson Arizona. He has a 40 minute effort at 337 watts. The day totaled 4 hours with the transition run. However the Hoff is notorious for doing the Shootout then adding many hours to total over 8 hours. 4 hours is still a 50% reduction from his biggest days. And while 337 watts sounds like a lot of watts, again, if he can hold 370 for an hour, it is a solid effort but well within him.

Links and other Ironman articles you might be interested in:
- Ben Hoffman on Strava
- Jesse Thomas on Strava
- My own pathetic Strava account

- Book: Iron War - Dave Scott vs Mark Allen

- Blog Post: First Time Ironman Tips
- Blog Post: Recovering from your Ironman

Lastly if you are triathlete, endurance athlete, or marathoner, I have set up a FREE Q&A group on Facebook. It will always be FREE. As a long-time age-grouper I spent way too long determining what information I could trust and what I couldn't. As a TRUE student of the sport I have learned a lot, remain open-minded, and realize that so many people disseminate information blindly and then bad myths become lore. I am hoping to shed some light and simplify things for people. Feedback is always appreciated.

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