303 Beginner Tri Project – Training 201: If you Want to get Fancy

by Alison Freeman

Have you completed your first tri recently? Or maybe it’s still on the horizon … but you’re already thinking about the next one. When triathletes are thinking about their next race, it’s usually with an eye toward how they can improve upon the last one. In fact, I’m convinced that the elusive perfect race is what keeps triathletes coming back to the sport year after year.

As a newer entrant to the sport, one of the fastest ways to improve on race day is to improve your approach to training. For your first race, you may have simply focused on ensuring you were able to complete the full swim-bike-run distances. Which means that for this next race, “getting fancy” with your training regimen will surely yield improvement.

The five key workouts outlined below will build both endurance and speed, and set you up for great results come race day:

The Long, Endurance Workout

What It Is
This is your weekend long bike and long run, which build to at least 120% of race-day distance for sprint- and Olympic-distance triathlons, and is the the fundamental component of training. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you shouldn’t train at your endurance effort level because you’re going to be racing at a faster pace. The long, endurance workout is critical for building your aerobic engine, which is required regardless of race pace.

These workouts should be done at your endurance effort level – your all day, conversational pace. By conversational, I do literally mean that you can hold a conversation while running or cycling at this effort level. Often athletes run faster than their endurance pace on their endurance runs. If you can’t get out a full sentence (10+ words) without needing a break to breathe, then you’re running too fast. Don’t be discouraged if your pace feels unbearably slow at this effort level – it will increase over time with discipline and patience!

When To Use It
Every week, without fail. In fact 80% of your training each week should be done at endurance effort.

 

Hill Repeats

What They Are

Yup, these are just what they sound like: short but intense bursts of effort going up a hill, that you repeat several times.

FOR THE RUN: Start with a ten to fifteen minute endurance-effort warm up. Then hit the intervals: four to eight repeats of 30 seconds running hard up the hill, and recover by walking or jogging back to the bottom of the hill. You should just barely be able to maintain your pace for the entire 30 seconds, and for the entire set of four to eight repeats. (Yes, they should be that hard – lots of huffing and puffing involved in this one!) Finish the run with an endurance-effort cool down of five to fifteen minutes.

As you get stronger, you can lengthen the hill repeats up to 45 seconds, then a minute, 90 seconds, and even two minutes. Keep in mind that as the length of the hill increases, your sustainable pace will decrease; adjust your pace but follow the same principle that you should just barely be able to hold that pace to the top of the hill.

FOR THE BIKE: You can either find a short, relatively steep hill and repeat that four to eight times, or you can ride up a longer hill just once or twice, or you can ride a hilly route and work each and every hill you encounter. For any of those options, include a ten to fifteen minute endurance-effort warm up and cool down; ride the hills hard – as hard as you can sustain – and recover on the downhills.

When To Use Them
Hill repeats are great tools to develop strength and power early in your training, preparing you for the upcoming speed work. I recommend doing these workouts weekly, 8-12 weeks before your race.

 

Threshold Intervals

What They Are
Threshold intervals should be done at your lactate threshold, which can be thought of as the pace that just barely keeps that burn from taking over your legs before the interval concludes.

For both bike and run threshold intervals, start with a ten to fifteen minute endurance-effort warm up. Then complete three to six 3-minute threshold intervals with 3-minute very, very easy recoveries; the effort level should be very challenging but repeatable. Finish the workout with an endurance-effort cool down of five to fifteen minutes.

Each week, either increase the number of repetitions, add a minute to the interval duration, or take a minute away from the recovery duration. Unlike with increasing durations for hill repeats, as these workout gets harder, your effort level should remain the same – or even get stronger as you adjust to the demands of the workout.

When To Use Them
Threshold intervals are the best way to build speed at all effort levels. I recommend doing these workouts weekly, 4-8 weeks before your race.

 

Anaerobic Intervals

What They Are
Anaerobic intervals are executed at a similar effort level as hill repeats, but they’re about going fast versus building strength and power. Intervals at this effort level should produce a “burn” in your legs after the 3rd interval, but should be repeatable with sufficient rest.

For both bike and run anaerobic intervals, start with a ten to fifteen minute endurance-effort warm up. Then complete five to ten 30-second anaerobic intervals with 30-second very, very easy recoveries; the effort level should be extremely challenging but repeatable. Finish the workout with an endurance-effort cool down of five to fifteen minutes.

Each week, increase the total number of 30-second intervals up to twelve, or two sets of eight to ten. Alternatively, you can lengthen the intervals up to one minute, starting with four to six intervals. As with the threshold intervals, your effort level should remain the same as the workouts get harder.

When To Use Them
Anaerobic intervals serve to give a final nudge to your top speed. I recommend doing these workouts in the four weeks before your race.

 


Race Pace Tempo Intervals

What They Are
Race pace tempo intervals are singular, sustained intervals executed at your expected race pace. Your race pace is typically somewhere between your endurance effort and your lactate threshold, based on your fitness and the race distance. As you do these workouts, try to find an effort level that you can hold for the entire race duration.

For both bike and run, the single race pace intervals is bookended by an endurance effort warm up and cool down of ten to fifteen minutes. The race pace interval on the bike can range in duration from ten to thirty minutes; on the run, the duration can range from five to fifteen minutes.

Start with a duration on the lower end of the range, and increase it until two weeks before race day. After that, decrease the interval duration a bit or split it into two, shorter intervals.

When To Use Them
Race pace intervals help you identify and get accustomed to your desired race pace. I recommend doing these workouts in the four weeks before your race.