First things first, let us keep it healthy. If this is your first year in Triathlon, don’t even think about diving straight into an IRONMAN 70.3 event (1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run). Don’t try and bluff your way into a distance that you haven’t prepared for. I know of people who did not respect the preparation needed and ended up in injury or illness. Stick to shorter distances such as Sprints, Olympic Distances and Duathlons instead.
How much should you be training per week?
If this is your second plus year of solid training, let’s set some weekly time budgets for healthy preparation for the target distance. As a guideline…
Sprint distance: 6-8 hours training a week
Olympic distance: 8-12 hours a week
IRONMAN 70.3 distance: 12-15 hours a week
1. Train long, not short and intense.
Here’s more of the science behind the benefits of training slow: The enzymes of fat metabolism are located in structures within the muscle cells called mitochondria. Fats are transported into the mitochondria where, in the presence of oxygen, they are broken down to generate energy. More mitochondria translate to more fat metabolism, and more energy in the form of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate).
High-volume training increases the amount and size of mitochondria. Longer exercise bouts produce the most significant gains in mitochondrial content. A 90-minute run provides a better stimulus than a 60-minute run.
During the base phase of building miles, it is the daily consistency of training over a period of weeks and months that will boost fat metabolism.
Most people make the mistake of training too fast and load up on carbohydrate both of which blocks this improvement which may sound, but this is what we call junk training. Once again, good coaching advice and correct zone setting will pay dividends to your performance.
2. Train to your body age and body type.
Not all of us are built the same or have the same mileage on the clock concerning body age. For example, if you are a little overweight, your running improvement may come from slowing down entirely and dropping the heart rate back to zone 1 or 2. For many people, this will mean brisk walking or jog-walking, once again counter-intuitive. However, the lower zones will trigger weight loss and this, in turn, will improve your running and cycling efficiency.
Older (body age) athletes need to spend more time in the gym, working on strength, muscle balancing and mobility. As a general rule, as each decade that goes by means one more day a week in the gym. Strength training to maintain some’ muscle mass is especially critical in endurance sports because any exercise of more than 1-hour tears muscle down – we need to address this issue with a proper training balance of our training hours.
3. Recovery is vital
Training makes you worse, recovery makes you better, and it is nailing all the marginal gains including Sleep, Compression, and Nutrition, that consolidate the training into improvements.
Do not fall into the trap of overtraining, because it may cause you to develop injuries or lead to a burnout. Be patient as you start to see improvements slowly, not instantly.
4. Don’t forget about the Mental Muscle
A lot of people ambush themselves on race day when the voices in their head takes over and they lose sight of their race objective. Work with a coach to have several key words or mantras that you will focus on to stay in the moment and execute the plan.
Mental rehearsal. Everyone will have a mechanism for them on race. For me, I already knew that I had done the work. I had a certainty that I can do nothing more but focus on what is ahead of me. Before the race, I relax in the water and bring all my thoughts together.
It is also not a good idea to talk to a lot of people before your race for last minute tips, especially in whatsapp chat groups. You will be tossed here and there by different opinions and advice. Hence, there is no use in getting last minute advice contrary to your own plan.
5.1 Nutrition: Train to be a fat-adapted athlete
Understand your body’s fuel systems and then train appropriately. Your body has 2 fuel tanks; Glucose which soon runs out, and Fat which is an enormous fuel source. Training in a fasted state and in the aerobic zones encourages fuel efficiency to improve, ultimately over many months, leading to the body running mostly on fat which is the most efficient fuel source.
5.2. Nutrition: Race Fueling
Most people fail at this even before race day due to too much training volume in the wrong zones to trigger the metabolic efficiency of handling the heat. Hot races show no mercy on the stomach and overloading with liquid calories can cause the stomach to shut down, leading to dehydration and cramps.
Having said that, Race Nutrition is a big topic in itself and we will break this down to a separate session.
6. It’s not about the bling
The average bike time over 70.3 distance is 3 hours, which means an average speed of 30 km per hour.
At that speed, all the aero bits such as deep-rimmed wheels, aero helmets, and TT bikes have little or no effect.
They may create more fatigue on the body than necessary due to factors such as carrying extra weight, riding at an aggressive angle, using deep-rimmed wheels resulting in greater crosswind resistance. This might sap the strength from your body on the run. You would not want to be trudging through your run with legs that were already smashed.
7. Run Forrest, Run!
Running on tired legs, in the heat, that’s what we do in Asia every race, so this needs to be a part of what we do every time we touch the bike. Finish your bike trainings with a run.
Some people tell me that they only have 2 hours to train, leaving them no time for run trainings. My answer to them is this: shorten your ride to 100 mins and then run 20 mins after.
Those of you with children, leave your running shoes downstairs by the guardhouse, under a bush, or a safe place so there is no interruption to the momentum. Once you reach your home location, pop on your shoes and run immediately. The idea is to keep moving, this will be an excellent transition practice for you.
8. Train outdoors in the heat.
“Recent research has shown that heat training actually does a better job of boosting VO2 max and increase hematocrit levels than altitude training.”
Your body needs to be acclimatised to dealing with the heat so do most of your training outdoors. Furthermore, heat training has been shown to make athletes more adaptable to a broader range of temperatures.
However, do apply sunblock and cover up when training in the heat; cover your head and wear short sleeves rather than sleeveless. This was another big mistake that I observed at Bintan 70.3.
9. Advice for the Swim
Although only 12% (on average) of the overall time of a 70.3, swimming is an hypoxic activity, meaning that you are unable to breath all the time. Therefore, your cardiovascular system is forced to adapt and improve. Because of this, there is a real upside to our running and cycling.
Most folks in Asia would find that swimming requires the most technical work of all the disciplines, because they did not swim much during their early days. However, swimming well enough in a triathlon is not about having the perfect technique. A good swim coach should guide you based on your biomechanics on what can be changed, what we have to live with, and then bridge the gap with strength conditioning.
Pool swimming and open water swimming are two different worlds; the fear of open water, navigation, and dealing with contact and currents are all skills that need to be acquired. Work with a coach that can follow you in open water on sea craft and coach you on the spot on improvements.
Quite frankly, adhering to the basics is a common formula for athletes of all levels. Respect your body. Give it a year to adjust to proper training, including the necessary soft tissue resilience, cardiovascular fitness and strength endurance. Remember that sports is supposed to enhance your quality of life, not negatively impact it. I would also add, that not everyone is built for long distances. Work with a Coach who understands your body age, body type and can recommend a personalised mileage and training sweet spot for you.
Author: Michael Lyons
Michael is an ITU Level 2 Coach, Co-owner of TriEdge, and CEO of recovery systems. He is also a race commentator for Cycling and Triathlon races.
He has training and recovery tips & tricks from his 53 years of bike riding. He has done more than 100 Ironman races and 6000 hours of athlete coaching including the use of active compression technology.
He loves to connect and bring the endurance community together.