Entering their first triathlon, many participants’ primary goal is to finish. But once the triathlete has participated in one or a couple events, the focus shifts more to improving times and performances.
Chicago Athlete Magazine talked to triathlon training experts and coaches to get their advice on the best tips for veteran triathletes preparing for their next race.
Develop a Training Plan
The training plan should prioritize the race schedule, says Craig Strong, owner of Precision Multisport, an Evanston-based triathlete coaching company. The training plan itself should be built backward from the triathlon, with the goal of gradually increasing durations of workouts, then backing off so someone is not too tired at race time.
How soon to back off depends on how hard one trains, Strong says. A person who is working out hard and religiously before the race might want one week or more to rest before the big day, while someone with a lighter workout schedule might take a break only three days before the race.
“Too many people want to cram for a race like they cram for an exam; that doesn’t work,” Strong says.
Have a Consistent Training Regimen
“The key is being realistic about what you can do,” says “Everyday Triathlete” founder and head coach Brian Hammond. “It doesn’t really matter how many hours a week you train, as long as you are consistent. You may have 20 hours a week; you may only have seven hours a week. Too many people think they can spend much more time training than they really can. They might think they can train 20 hours a week, but they have a job and a family. So they train less and become very inconsistent.”
Similarly, some start with heavy training regimens long before a triathlon, but slack off after the first few weeks. It’s better to “train up” to the race, according to Hammond.
Though the training regimen needs to be consistent, it also must be varied, Strong stresses. “Too many people just do the same workout four times a week, then they hit a plateau.”
Worse, after hitting a plateau, people will actually regress if they don’t change their workouts, Strong adds.
“You have a limited amount of time for training, so you have to be very pragmatic about what you put on your checklist,” says Rob Sleamaker, author of Serious Training for Serious Athletes and co-author of Serious Training for Endurance Athletes. “The majority of the race is cycling, the second is running, the third is the swim, the fourth is transition. A solid training program will prepare for those legs in logical proportion to the way they happen in the race. If you have a real weakness in running or swimming, you might train a little more in those areas, but training in the bike is essential.
Work for the Maximum Benefit
While not totally discounting the theory of training proportionately, Hammond says to focus on the bike or running areas, wherever one is weaker, in order to gain the most time. For most triathletes, little time can be gained in the swim portion of the race, he adds.
“If someone is losing time on the run and we can save him 30 seconds a mile, that’s a few minutes over the course of the race,” Hammond says.
Strong recommends a good warm up and cool down with an easy spin. The workout itself should be a six to eight repetitions of a hard, controlled effort of 105 or more RPMs for 30 seconds, followed by a minute of easy cycling.
Again, Strong emphasizes a good warm up and cool down with easy running for each. He recommends five sets of runs including 15- to 20-second high cadence efforts to wake up the legs. Triathletes should check heart rate and breathing to help control their efforts. Strong further recommends checking cadence and forms several times throughout the run workout.
Strong recommends three repetitions of 12.5 fast laps and 12.5 easy, 12.5 easy and 12.5 fast, 25 fast and 25 easy.
Brick (Bike/Run) Workout
This will help triathletes transition more quickly between each sport, Strong says, recommending that people eat and drink throughout the workout, particularly during the higher intensity portions. He suggests 10 minutes of biking in heart rate Zone 4 followed by five minutes of running in heart rate Zone 3, repeating until all repetitions are done, with no rest in between.
Strength training can be helpful, but only if it doesn’t get in the way of actual cycling, running or swimming training, according to Hammond. He recommends focuses on leg exercises because “it’s a leg-driven sport.” So he advises concentrating on squats and lifts, leg presses and step exercises at a high-tempo pace.
Hammond further recommends that strength training repetitions include weight appropriate for 10 repetitions of each exercise. “You shouldn’t be able to do any more after 10 reps. If you can do three more reps, what was the point?”
Start with a good, balanced diet, Strong recommends. Then maintain that diet through the triathlon. A common mistake many, even veteran, triathletes make, according to Strong, is to load on extra carbohydrates before the race. That’s not necessary if the diet is already good.
Similarly, be cautious of “rewarding” oneself after an especially hard workout or training race, Strong cautions. “Too often, people will eat by the reward system, figuring after a hard workout, ‘I earned that.’ Then they’ll have a pizza, a greasy cheeseburger or something like that. They might consume more calories than they burned.”
Remember to Rest
Some people want to train hard all the time, but the body needs time to rest in order to maximize performance, Strong says. “It takes the body seven to 10 days to recover from a breakthrough workout.”
Similarly, Strong recommends that triathletes give themselves sufficient additional time to recover after their events before they re-start their training regimen for the next race.