The tapering week leading to the Ironman triathlon is often mistaken as the time to either do more training, or to rest completely. Neither option is the best. In fact, a blended approach would make more scientific, bodily and intuitive sense.
A proper tapering process, when adhered to closely, is not a cessation of activity but rather a reduction of overall physical workload. You will still swim, ride and run however you will do a fraction of the usual workload. Your overall mileage is reduced gradually, so that your body does not go ‘cold turkey and be shocked into inactivity. You want to rehearse your three disciplines so that your body is primed for the race. The delicate balance is to not do too much as to exhaust and deplete the body before race-day, and not too little as to lead to a loss of fitness. Up to three weeks before the race, get a weekly sports massage to work out the kinks in your muscles. Muscle spasms (knots or cramps) reduce the muscles ability to exert the most power and strength when you need it most. Over-stretch tight muscles during racing and, you may incur the wrath of a painful cramp as retribution.
The mysterious aspects of tapering is that you may experience soreness, potential niggles (injuries), and a sense of frustration that you may be doing too little. This is a risky proposition: to want to do a little more, when you should be repairing your body, nourishing it, and allowing it to fully recuperate from weeks of intense training. My electrolyte intake will be at its highest as I want to infuse water within my muscles (intramuscular fluid).
For my tapering week, my swims are limited to a total of 1.5-2.0K (mostly practising drafting, sighting and some speed work), rides to 2 hours of intervals (short fast bursts with longer recovery sets), and running to 5-10K at race-pace. The day before the race, I will rehearse a short ‘triathlon’ just to keep my muscles attuned, and then I will check my bike in. I will do nothing at all two days before, and get most of my restful sleep. It is hard to get quality sleep the night before, if you spend the night going to the bathroom as you rehydrate on your return. Pre-race nerves also upset your restfulness.
Go over your race gear, and ensure that you carry enough nutrition for your ride and run. If inclement weather prevails, prepare extra attire and warm clothing. Check and test for quality of race-gear. Whenever you can, raise your feet and rest. Keep shopping to after your race, especially when you need to up early to purchase the finisher’s merchandise.