Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Your First Triathlon - Training

Last week, I received an email from a member of Team EC that went something like this:

“Great site, I am really enjoying the workouts but I can’t understand a single thing that people are saying on the forum…”

Now that wasn’t exactly what she said but it was pretty close to the truth. So I donned my Beginners Mind and did a scan through the topics on various chat sites.

It can be pretty confusing -- there is a lot of info out there. Here's my shot at boiling it down for you.

If you’d like the team at Endurance Corner to guide you through your season then Contact Me and we can discuss your needs.

Remember that the most important part of your training plan is doing it. In other words, find a plan that you enjoy and you can hit every day. That plan is going to outperform any other option.

Why? Because you must train in order to improve.

The best quote I read in the last year is this one:

    Always remember that you are faster than someone sitting on a couch.


Here is how to build your first Basic Week for triathlon. I’m going to assume that you can exercise at least 30 minutes per day, most days.

Weekday Training
Aim for one session per day. Here are the sessions:

  • Swim – see my sample swim workout below, or join a beginner’s masters team
  • Bike – see my bike main sets below, or attend a spinning class – run, or walk, for 15 minutes after your bike ride
  • Run – you are likely to do best with walking/hiking see my workout below as well as Bobby’ Run:Walk article in the Library
  • Balance, Strength and Conditioning – to start, I highly recommend a Body Flow-type class that incorporates yoga, balance and general conditioning

That’s four sessions to get done in five days. The other day is Open for you. It is a cushion in case life gets in the way as well as an opportunity for you to outperform.

Weekend Training:

  • One Day will be Swim and Hike (or Run)
  • The Other Day will be Bike

Schedule the above workouts into your week by making an appointment with yourself.

As much as possible train first thing in the day.

Swim Goals and Workouts
Your overall swim goal is to build the endurance necessary to complete your race swim distance (in the pool) using three stroke breathing, without stopping. Don’t try to do this your first trip to the pool! Rather, break your swim into bite-sized chunks.

Here is a nice pattern to use:

  • (2x) 25, 25, 50 on 15s RI
  • (2x) 25, 50, 25 on 10s RI
  • 100

Explaining my lingo above... the first line means...
Do the following twice, 25 yards, then 25 yards, then 50 yards - take 15 seconds rest after each swim.
Do all your swimming with three-stroke breathing - left/right/left (breathe) right/left/right (breathe).
When you breathe think chin-up, chin-down; this will help you keep your head down in the water. When you lift your head to breathe, your hips drop and this slows you down.

You will find that technical sports (like swimming) work best when you are feeling relatively fresh. Speed is not a concern, the #1 goal is to become relaxed in the water. With that in mind, if you need extra rest for the swim workouts then take it. However, if you need a lot extra rest then you should slow down.

Over time, you can repeat the patterns above as well as start to add continuous swims of 100, 200, 300 and, eventually, 500 yards/meters duration.

Bike Goals and Workouts
Your overall bike goal is to build up the endurance to complete your total race duration (swim plus bike plus run). The bike is the safest place to build your endurance and this will give you an idea about how best to pace your effort across your event.

With your weekday ride aim for 30-60 minutes of cycling. Keep your HR under “180 minus your age” // if you have been training daily for more than 1 year or are over 60 years old then add 5 bpm to your ceiling. Let’s call this number your Heart Rate Cap.

As for the bottom range, aim to keep yourself over 120 bpm for most of the ride.

Choose one (or more) of the following and insert them into your ride:

  • 1-3 x 8 minutes at 92-94 cadence, take 2 minutes relaxed between if you are doing more than one interval
  • 5-10 x 1/1/1 minutes – 1 minute left leg, 1 minute right leg, 1 minute both legs
  • 3-10 x 3 minutes as 30 seconds super fast cadence (keep effort/HR moderate, make sure that your hips are stable and you are not rocking wildly!), 2:30 normal cadence
  • 2-5 x 5/5 minutes – 5 minutes at 92-94 rpm and 5 minutes at 65-70 rpm

Single leg work only done indoors. Don’t one-leg-it down the road outside!

Overall, aim for a steady effort – if you make a mistake then go too easy.

Run Goals and Workouts
Your overall run goal is to build up the endurance to complete your total run duration (not distance). If you are going to hurt yourself then it is most likely from a running injury. For this reason you MUST be very cautious with increasing your run duration as well as using any intensity over your Heart Rate Cap.

Before starting to run, make sure that you can stay under your Heart Rate Cap while walking. Remember that your heart & lungs don’t know the difference between walking, running and cycling. If you can train aerobically by walking then that is good enough.

When I started running, I rushed the process and lost TWO years to injury. A gradual build-up is the fastest way to improve.

Here is a good pattern to use when you are starting to run:

  • Ten minutes power walking
  • Four minutes run then one minute power walking;
  • Five minutes power walking;
  • Four minutes run then one minute power walking;
  • Ten minutes power walking.

How to progress
Always keep the opening ten minutes of walking. Once your heart rate falls under 120 bpm during the walking phases start to add more running:

  • Replace the middle walking section with run:walk; then
  • Replace the final walking with run:walk; then
  • Start to extend the running segments by a minute, always making sure that you don’t exceed your Heart Rate Cap.

A final tip is to walk EVERY hill. You’ll find that to be a lot faster than spiking your heart rate.


My heart rate cap is too low. Am I going too slow?
This program is designed to give you the best shot at consistent training for the next twelve weeks. Try it my way for twelve weeks and see if you can hit the plan. The protocol makes A LOT of sense once you really try it for three months.

What about group training?
So long as you don’t fry yourself – go for it. Remember your Heart Rate Cap. In every group, in every part of the World, at every session, there will be a person that wants to drill it. Bring a map, snacks, spare money and your humility. Stick to YOUR session goals!

What type of bike? What type of gearing?
Spend HALF your budget on a bike – I started on a hybrid mountain bike with no aerobars. You don’t need fancy equipment – that can come later.

Buy the most humble gearing you can find – in agegroup terms, I am a strong cyclist and can ride with anyone using compact gearing. The big gears look cool on the bike but you’ll do best with lots of granny gears. Otherwise you will have to ride flat all the time to stay under your Heart Rate Cap. Hills are a lot more fun with correct gearing!

How long should I go on the weekend?
Start with an hour total on each day and gradually build towards the goals that I outlined above.

Aim for less than you think you need so you create a habit of keeping promises to yourself.

If you have questions/feedback then use the comment form at the bottom of the article. I’m here to help.


Click to share on Twitter and Facebook    Tweet This!