Tapering for a 24 miler

caburkecaburke Charter Member
edited March 2012 in Beginner Questions
I’m preparing for the 24 mile Tampa Bay Marathon Swim on April 21 and I’m trying to figure out a taper plan. Here’s my background. I’m 50 years old, swam around 25,000 yards/week in 2011 and have averaged around 36,000 yards/week in 2012 with some long swims on weekends. The last 5 weeks I’ve been at 40,000+ yards/meters. My longest pool swim has been 17,500 yards and my longest open water has been 10 miles.

My questions: When should I do my last long swim? When should I dial down the intensity of my pool workouts? What type of swimming should I do the week leading up to the swim? I’m open to all suggestions.



  • bobswimsbobswims Santa Barbara CACharter Member
    edited March 2012
    I'm 59 and Tampa was my first swim over 10K. I didn't feel comfortable doing my last long swim any closer than 3 weeks from the race. I also cut the yardage the last 3 weeks before the swim, but kept up the intensity. I also made sure my swimming during the week before was even less yardage.
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    Taper is a very personal process, and is as much mental as physical. At the end of a successful taper, you should feel well-rested, powerful and effortless in the water, and confident. The path to that ideal end-state varies from person to person.

    For myself, I aim to dial down volume but not necessarily intensity. I like to get my heart-rate up - but not for so long that it fatigues me. I do lots of pace work in the pool. 100s & 200s on ample rest - trying to see how fast I can go while still feeling relatively smooth & effortless. As the taper progresses I watch my pace times gradually drop as my body becomes increasingly rested.

    3 weeks before race day sounds about right for a final big training swim.

    Another thing I'd say is that a full, 2-3 week taper isn't effective more than about twice per year. Any more frequently than that and you start crossing over from "well-rested" to "losing fitness." So, last year when I did four major swims, I did more of a 5-7 day "rest" for each, rather than a full taper.
  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber
    Tapering is (and always has been) my most hated part of swimming. I've never figured out how to do it perfectly, but always seemed to do a bit better on nothing more than 2 weeks of rest. I've always felt like I lose fitness after that. The best part of marathon swimming for me is that I can basically do whatever I want without some coach telling me otherwise. It's better for me mentally to have a general taper plan and then play it by ear. I typically follow Evan's advice and dial down yards, but keep intensity high, unless I start to freak and need a long easy swim to chill me out. Do what feels good and right for you. It's supposed to be fun! See you in Tampa!
  • david_barradavid_barra NYCharter Member
    I never could figure out the whole taper thing... which may be why I have completely lost interest in pool racing. Between the harsh reality of aging (not getting any faster), the potential to mis-taper and the age of tech suits, the thought of sitting by a pool for three days hoping that I'd squeeze a couple of 100ths off a 2 minute race seemed rather pointless. I suppose my sprinting friends feel the same way about burying ones face in the brine for 15 hours...
    ... I digress
    I am no longer in search of the perfect taper, and only hope to be "rested enough"...to get the job done.

    ...anything worth doing is worth overdoing.

  • ssthomasssthomas DenverCharter Mem​ber
    @david_barra: I coudn't agree more! Glad I'm not the only one who never could figure out the taper thing, and always hated the stress of "needing" to drop a second off a 500, which was just flat out too short!
  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin
    Taper was always a bit mysterious and stressful for me too. There's a temptation to think you're losing fitness, but you have to trust it. I don't think I've ever over-tapered... actually, my best taper ever was four weeks! And that was only by accident (tapering for one meet, at which I qualified for another, two weeks later).
    Between the harsh reality of aging (not getting any faster), the potential to mis-taper and the age of tech suits, the thought of sitting by a pool for three days hoping that I'd squeeze a couple of 100ths off a 2 minute race seemed rather pointless
    Could not agree more.
  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member
    I hope to someday have a regular-enough training schedule that I'll actually have to worry about tapering. As it stands, my work sked is so unpredictable that about once every month, my usual 4x/week gets cut down to 1 or 2 workouts, if even that.

    The one time I think I actually tapered was right before the Dart 10K. Up to then, I'd been doing an occassional 2-2.5 hour 'long' swim on the weekend. I stopped those about 3 weeks prior to the 10K. Also, cut some of my usual weekday workouts down in yardage. However, I have no idea if that helped or not. My 10K was tide-assisted, so no real idea how I would have done in a 'flat' 10k.

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • SharkoSharko Tomales BayGuest
    My experience has been how I feel after a long training swim and how quickly I recover as the measure of when to start and how long to taper...I also know my body and that I can keep going as long as I am not injured (a mark of a marathon swimmer)...It seems to me that a longer taper to rebuild and repair the body and prepare mentally is the best approach...it seems that some want to keep training harder and harder as almost an obsession based on fear...seemingly out of fear of not making it??? I don't know.....long test swims will give you direct experience of your fitness level. I always felt that a 60% of the distance/time projected as a test swim was enough and then a three week period or recovery...with just light training...

    "I never met a shark I didn't like"

  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member
    My Tampa Bay routine was averaging about 70K per week with a crash taper on the end. One week out I began the taper with a 2 hour OW swim on Saturday. Sunday was swim until I felt good, Monday 5K (all pool), Tues 4.5K, Wed 4.5K, Thurs 3.5K, Friday (easy swim in the AM, travel, and then easy swim at the hotel pool). Then race. I didn't really do anything hard 10 days out.
  • ForeverSwimForeverSwim Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaCharter Member
    The taper which works for me, has been to build up to around double the distance of the race, 3 weeks prior. For example, the Molokai Channel was around 45-50K in distance, which put my absolute highest training around 90K-100K for that week; 3 weeks out from the swim. From 3 weeks out, I typically taper down half the distance each week, but like everyone else, do my best to keep up the intensity! Again, as example, I went 90-100K (3 Weeks) - 45-50K (2 Weeks) - 20-25K (1 Week Out). Prior to doing about 100K, I would hold 2-3 weeks of 75-80K.
    The last couple days before the swim are whatever you feel is necessary, but focusing on taking it easy! At that point, I always found it difficult to just make sure I was sleeping enough, and relaxing. "THE TRAINING IS DONE" I would repeat to myself...

    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania U.S.A.

  • IronMikeIronMike Northern VirginiaCharter Member
    My God, FS, how did you have any time for anything else? 100k a week? Hell, even 75k. Jeez.

    We're all just carbon, water, starlight, oxygen and dreams

  • ForeverSwimForeverSwim Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaCharter Member
    @IronMike - I guess I'm just following @david_barra and his quote, "anything worth doing, is worth overdoing! That distance might not be necessary, however I did not want to take any chances in a swim like Molokai, so I wanted to be over prepared!

    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania U.S.A.

  • caburkecaburke Charter Member
    The summer open water season is about to open up in Florida so I thought it would be appropriate to resurrect this topic. I got a lot of good information here last year.

    I would like to add, now that I’m older (I’m 51), rest and recovery has really become a lot more important. After peaking at around 50k per week, I plan a three week taper for my next marathon swim.
  • heartheart San Francisco, CACharter Member
    I've just started tapering for the same swim, @caburke. The taper for me is mental as well as physical. It's a bit of a chance to rest, move my body in different ways, and spend the time I put into the pool in previous years talking to family and friends and getting some encouragement from them.
  • I peaked at 75K, which was durig a week while schools were out for spring break (I'm a teacher). Prior to that, I was at 50K building to 60K for January to March. The last two weeks I've been bringing it down and it is the same problem I had in college...understanding that the hard part is done, but I'm still not done! I was a sprinter in college, so that would mean workouts would be short, but hard.
    I have a hard time staying FOCUSED. Plus when I have more energy from slightly shorter workouts, it is extra hard for me to stay focused!
    This is my first taper for such a long swim (TBMS)...when I tapered for 12 mile Charleston, I felt tired the ENTIRE time. Until maybe two days before the swim. This time I haven't felt tired, but I have been hungry, eating a lot, and have mysteriously lost a little more weight.
    WIth a little over a week left to go, I'll have a two back to back three mile swims this Saturday/Sunday, then really taking it easy and play the mental waiting game next week.
    To make it worse..I have to give a standardized test on Monday and Tuesday too!!
    It seems like I've followed a similar taper to a lot of other people who have already posted. I swear the mental part is the most difficult!
  • gtswimgtswim PennsylvaniaMember
    Looking for opinions, at what distance would a taper not really be necessary, or would a taper be necessary for any distance?

    I'm swimming the GCBS and wondering if I should plan a more formal taper instead of just planning an "easy" week the week before the siwm.
  • Kevin_in_MDKevin_in_MD Senior Member
    I find the need for taper more based on training volume than race distance. Performance modeling studies show that elite or college swimmers need from 3 weeks to 10 days for taper, it does vary widely as mentioned above.

    In my own case tapering from 40k weeks takes about two weeks.

    Recreational triathletes who only swim 10 or 12ish k per week need 1 or 2 days of taper.
  • I agree with the above. I did Cheapeake Bay three years in a row. The only time I think I really prepared how I would have liked to for the swim was the first year...I had enough volume and consistancy in my training to have a little taper and did well in the swim....third in my age group. The second year was my last year of grad scool and the third year was my first year of teaching, so needless to say, I had other concerns those years! I hadn't really been swimming consistantly, only 3-4 times a week, so there was no need for a taper because I never got to the point of extreme mental and physical exhaustion.
  • swimmer25kswimmer25k Charter Member
    I'll echo what Evan stated earlier. Tapering is personal and everyone is different. I use a similar taper for both pool and OW swims. When training for the pool, I was usually around 40-45K per week. For a marathon I was upwards of 75-89K per week. What was done in those weeks was entirely different. Pool stuff was close interval and race pace work. Marathons was long and low-end aerobic.

    As a distance swimmer since 10 years old, I require much less and shorter rests than those who swim the 50. The Saturday prior to the meet/race would be the last workout before taper. Sundays were usually off, but I will swim a glorified warm-up until I felt good. This would stave off the Monday morning blahs after usually taking Sunday off. Monday becomes the beginning of a crash taper and I would max out at 5000. Typically long stuff like I had been doing. If it's a pool meet, I would throw in some pace work. Tuesday and Wednesday are 4500 and 4000, respectively. Thursday is 3-3500. Thursday or Friday is a travel day. I would try to find a place to swim in order to get the plane ride out of my system. Friday is 3000 or about a half-hour. As they say, "the hay is in the barn".

    It's mentally tough to taper because of all the hard work you've done and feel that by coming down your being a week slacker. Not true. Have confidence in your training and fitness. It will be there at mile 20, so don't worry.

    For an OW taper, you won't necessarily feel fast because you haven't been training for speed. Sometimes this is also hard to understand and can grind on you mentally. Again, don't worry.

    Here's my taper week for my EC swim. (I went by time in the water because the distance in Dover Harbor was hard to measure/understand.) I got to Dover on a Saturday AM and swam on the following Saturday.

    Saturday: 30 mins
    Sunday AM: 2.5 hours
    Monday AM: 2 hours
    PM: 30 mins
    Tuesday AM: 2 hours
    Wednesday AM: 1:30
    PM: 30 mins
    Thursday AM: 1 hour
    PM: 30 mins
    Friday AM: 30 mins
    PM: splash around for a bit
    Saturday: race day

    Hope this helps.

  • suziedodssuziedods Mem​ber
    Friday AM: 30 mins
    PM: splash around for a bit

    That sounds like what I do everyday...
  • JimBoucherJimBoucher Senior Member
    I think the concept is over=played in the vast majority of the OW swims we on this forum end up doing. I'm quite sure that if you're a 2hr 10km racer on the World circuit you'll have sorted this long ago with coaches and so on. Those of us who once raced up and down indoor pools over short (now to us OW lot) distances will know how the training sets and yardage would come down as we focussed on speed work and avoiding fatigue. But thats indoor sprints and this is OW.

    For the OW swims I have done since deciding indoor 100m races etc werent really that exciting any more, I reckon the taper is focussed on getting yourself clear of aches and niggles, getting out of the sense of dog-tired-ness from heavy training and getting some focus and optimism on the imminent event. Throw a nice massage in too.

    If you've done the training, and can be honest with yourself that you have, then I'd recommend the Suziedods approach. For the EC that might have been an hour or two max within a ten days of the swim, swimming only as long as you're enjoying it.

    Oh and not a bad idea to practice the concept of the taper on something other than your first really big, long iconic swim.....
  • A thought crossed my mind yesterday, because it was the first day I got out of the pool the same day as the typical master swimmer at about 60 minutes and just over 3000 yards. So... Four days before a 24 mile swim and I have JUST tapered to a "normal" masters practice. Just over a week ago I was astonished that an 11K workout was short...but compared to 15-17K, it was.
    Tapering for pool swimmers is about comparison to the rest of the season, but it is exaggerated even more going into a channel-length swim because your season high workouts are (should be) skyrocketing.
  • abbygirlroseabbygirlrose Los Angeles and Palo Alto, CASenior Member

    Hope its ok to post this question in this thread, but how does a taper plan change when there is more than one "big swim" in a summer season? I will be swimming Anacapa in 2 weeks and the length of Tahoe 2 weeks after that. I have been training about 60k per week and have the inclination to train up to and through Anacapa. Given that the first swim is half the distance of the second one, what would you do if this was you?

  • evmoevmo SydneyAdmin

    If it were me: A 3-day drop-rest before Anacapa so you feel at least little fresh. Then think of Anacapa as a last long training swim before your full taper for Tahoe. For the drop-rest: 45-minute "loosen" each day with a few 100s of pace work.

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