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This Month's Article

A beginners guide to Triathlon training - Part 1

So you have decided to commit to the scary prospect of completing your first Triathlon. It might seem as though the task of reaching this goal is just too difficult to consider at the moment, because there are so many things to deal with – run training, cycle training, swim training, transition training – and that’s before you’ve even considered what to wear!
The first step to achieving your goal is to relax! At this time of the year, we don’t need to worry about being ready to race – but we do need to start thinking about how we are going to make sure we are ready to race on the important day.
So onto the science bit. A whole area of Sports Science has been devoted to the ‘principles of training’ – all we need to do is understand how to use the science to help us. This article is the first part of an introduction to the science of training. Over the next few months, I’ll try and build you up to the important race day, so you can confidently cross the finish line in the time you want.
The biggest question at the moment will probably be ‘how much training should I be doing?’ Well, the good news is that at the moment you don’t need to be doing much at all! If we are going to be effective in reaching our goal, we need to realise that there are times of the year when we should be training hard, and there are times in the year when we should be taking it easy. To give you an idea of how this works out for the British race season, take a look at diagram 1:

Diagram 1

The first thing you should notice is that any time outside the main race season is at a lower intensity of training – what we should be doing is recovering from the previous season, working on our base level of fitness, honing technique and exercising for pleasure! We only need to train hard when we will gain maximum benefit from the training to help with a race. We need to remember that our body is essentially always trying to take the easiest route to survive – ‘if we don’t use it, we lose it!’ In other words gains in hard training, although involving lots of hard work and time, can be lost in as little as 7 days. Notice on diagram 1 that the intensity of training increases before a race – this means that we get maximum benefit from the hard work, without putting too much stress on our body. This brings us to the next bit of science – goal setting.

Goal setting

If we are going to reach our race day well prepared and injury-free, we need to plan our route. In other words we need to identify our race goal and then plan what we are going to do to get there.
If our race goal is going to be achieved, we need to consider the following:

Is our goal:

If our race goal is going to be SMART, the first thing we need to do is be specific about the race(s) we are going to enter. For example, you might decide to enter a novice sprint in May or a full sprint in June. Already, you have identified a specific goal, or a point you are going to work towards. A measurable goal is one that has identified outcomes. If we are planning to finish a race, this is a measurable goal. Is the goal achievable? Deciding to do an Ironman triathlon in your first year might be achievable if you are already training for another similar sport, but for most of us we need to choose a race that we can easily achieve in the time we have. An unrealistic goal would be to win the World Championships in 6 weeks with no training! However, finishing a sprint triathlon with 12 weeks training is easily achievable for most people. Finally, a time-framed goal is one that has identified steps based on time, whether it is days, weeks, months or years.

First steps

So, the first step is to identify our finish point, or race. To be realistic, you need to give yourself at least 6 weeks for a sprint triathlon, depending on your current level of fitness. Remember that you are aiming to finish the race, not win it.
To help make sense of the training plan I am going to show you, I’ll work towards a novice sprint in May, with 12 weeks of good preparation – lots of time to practice, improve and pull together all the skills we need to achieve our goal.
If we are going to be ready for race day, we need to slowly increase the volume of our training week by week, with an easy week every 3-4 weeks to allow for recovery and gains in fitness. One complete cycle of training, made up of about 4 weeks, is called a macrocycle. We can link macrocycles together to give us a time-framed guide to our planning (diagram 2):

Macrocycle plan

We can also increase the intensity of weeks, as well as the hours per week we train. Notice that a rest week is included in every macrocycle, to allow for the most important part of training – recovery. One of the problems of Triathlon is that we think more is better, but what we actually need to do is be more creative with our training. The only way to get fitter is to stress our body through exercise, and then REST to allow the muscles to repair. Importantly, we only get fitter and stronger when we are resting after training, not when we are actually training! Notice on diagram 2 that there is also an easy macrocycle at the end of a hard macrocycle. This gives us time to ‘pull it all together’ and rest effectively, so that we are ready for the next increase in workload.

The plan

So onto the training plan. The programme is based on a 4-week macrocycle, with every 4th week being an easier week to allow for maximum recovery. Each day is called a microcycle, and is made up of either a swim, cycle or run session, or a combination of these. Notice that there is no specified intensity for any session – the aim is to increase the volume of training so that you can finish the race.

The Plan

If you want to do more, that’s fine. Just remember that you still need the energy to do the other sessions in the week as well. Try not to miss a day if you can – if you need to swap days around, be careful that you don’t do two cycle, run or swim sessions one day after the other, because you will not be allowing yourself enough rest. If you need another day off, don’t worry – 1 or 2 days won’t matter in the bigger picture.
At this time of year your swim session should be a work and technique session

Superflytri club members will receive one swim, bike and run session based on their A race date and distance. There will also be advice on which areas to concentrate on for the best improvements. This will be based on feedback from the athlete questionnaire.

Keep an eye on the website for part 2 of this beginners guide.

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