Thursday, May 30, 2013

Triathlon Training (for Lapsed Triathletes)

OK -  I know I'm going to get some stick for this.

When I was really into doing triathlons and training up to Ironman distances, it was fairly clear to me that the pros did the bulk of their endurance work on the bike. Since they can train 10 hours in a day or more, that would still leave a good chunk for the other stuff.

The rest of us muddle through trying to improve in all 3 disciplines as best we can with the time available. However, it's a fact that you can improve your 180km bike split by hours if you put the right training in, whereas with a well-structured swim program you might shave off only a few minutes, despite putting in a couple of hours in the pool daily. With the run too, once you have a steady cruise pace dialled in, you might improve your marathon time by 15-20 minutes, or a 10k time by 5-8min with a high volume of systematic training but mostly you're talking a massive time scale for minute improvements.

So it should be clear that to improve your overall triathlon time, it's the bike where you should put in the most hours.

These days I've somehow lost the tri bug to a certain extent. I started riding pure road bikes about 10 years back, and now focus virtually all my training time and energy on the bike, riding pretty much every day following a loosely-structured training plan. Yet I still enjoy doing triathlon races and usually plan a couple of short course events into my year as a test for my fitness. I'm just not that into running or swimming at the moment.

However, never one to accept the usual norms, I'm coming up with my own triathlon training plan for those who can swim and run, but just don't enjoy training it that much.

My idea is: since I spend a lot of time training power and endurance on my bike, that I've developed a high level of cardiovascular fitness already, and all I need to do for the swim and run is work on maintaining good form.

With a triathlon run the main thing is to be able to get a good cruise speed together and to be able to run off the bike effectively. My approach puts forward that with cardiovascular endurance, leg speed and power built on the bike, keeping your weight down and working on good form and a good cruise pace will get you through a short-course run nicely. For longer distances I would add core strength exercises.

Even in my hardest riding weeks I try to run a couple of times a week to keep my basic form together. Instead of trying to do a basic endurance run of 30 minutes or so, I do what amounts to relatively easy cruise intervals of 4 minutes keeping good form followed by 1 minute walking, repeated 6 times. The intervals don't have to be hard, but then they don't have to be super easy either. It's just about form. I don't even usually wear a heart rate monitor. The idea is that I get the biomechanical conditioning without the loss of form. Plus it's more fun, so easier to motivate myself to do it. If I'm aiming to do an Olympic distance race I'll just build up until I'm running maybe 12 of these a couple of times a week, and do a couple of "brick" runs off the bike of 3-5k to get my legs used to doing that again. No sweat...:p

Same with the swim. When I get in the pool these days I'll do a short warm up, followed by some drills, and then a couple of fastish cruise 50 meters keeping the form as good as possible, then an easy 100 to loosen up. Never much more than 6-800m overall. I might build these cruise 50s up to the point where I'm doing over 1000m overall, but not much more than that. My goal is to enjoy the swim in the race, rather than to do a great time.

Of course, I've worked a great deal on my swim and run form in the past, so it's not hard to get those coordinates punched into the system, but working on form is not massively tiring - just boring, so it could still work were I at a more basic stage.

I haven't tried this preparation method on anything longer yet, but I'm planning to take it up to half-ironman distance later this year.

The more I train like this, the more I feel that it could be a model for triathlon training at any level - with modifications of course.

It's a work in progress. Anyone have anything to offer?


  1. Nice work Greg! Found this blog by chance. I'm currently doing some loosely structured stuffs on daily basis too. Swim bike run lifting weight some yoga n martial arts too. What a diverse things but feels good. Keep your great writing here. Mon

    1. Thanks Mon! Good to hear that you're still keeping yourself active - sounds nice and varied :) let's ride soon!