A Smarter Triathlon Training Strategy

Train smart (not just hard) in between races to boost your shot at a faster time.

Photo: Nils Nilsen

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Train smart (not just hard) in between races to boost your shot at a faster time.

With the summer in full swing and your fitness reaching new peaks, there’s a temptation to fill your weekends with races. After all, racing is why you’re doing all that training, right? A common mid-season scenario goes like this: You just had the race of your life last weekend and you’re so excited that you sign up for a hard race in two weeks, even though your next goal race isn’t for another eight weeks.

By eagerly signing up for back-to-back races, you’re short-changing your recovery and the potential training boost for your goal event. Racing frequently is OK if you’re just looking for a workout and more experience racing. But if your goal is a PR or a podium placing at a goal race, you need to be more selective about timing.

The biggest challenge for race-happy time-crunched athletes is the cycle of tapering for a race, completing it, recovering from it and then immediately preparing for another one. On a race-per-month schedule, you could spend a week tapering before a race and up to a week recovering after it. In the end, you’ve devoted nearly two weeks to a race that gave you one great workout, but miss out on the opportunity of two full weeks of hard productive training. Sure, you may have enough fitness to finish a racing schedule like this, but I can almost guarantee that you’ll find yourself going slower in each consecutive event. That’s because long-term there’s not enough training stimulus in this “race-and-recover” scenario.

I like to see athletes put a minimum of six weeks between goal races, especially if they’re half-Ironmans—there’s a little more wiggle room with Olympic-distance events, and sprint distances are short enough that you don’t need more than a few days of recovery. For solid performance gains at the 70.3 distance, sticking to a six-week interval should produce better results. You can take up to 10 days to recover from a half-Ironman, then work through an intense three-week training block and finish with 7–10 days to recover and grow stronger before tapering for the next race.

For most athletes, this cycle still allows you to put together a full racing schedule. In most parts of the country that means enough time to fit at least two, maybe three, half-Ironmans into a season before winding down. With Olympic-distance events, 3–4 is realistic.

I’ve put together a calendar and sample six-week program leading up to a half-Ironman, assuming you’ve recently finished a half-Ironman race. If using it after an Olympic-distance event, be prepared for a jump in training time and the heightened importance of using recovery days to rest.

When possible, turn swim/bike and bike/run days into a combined brick workout with no more than a 15-minute break between activities to clean up, rehydrate, eat and change clothing. This will better prepare your body for the physiological requirements of triathlon.


Week 1
Recovery week: Couple of easy rides, endurance swims. No intervals, no running until Wednesday.

Week 2
Recovery mode until Wednesday, then start lactate threshold interval training.

Week 3
Lactate threshold intervals

Week 4
Lactate threshold intervals

Week 5
Lactate threshold intervals for bike and run. Start taper on Thursday with easy rides and runs, and endurance swims.

Week 6
Short, easy swim, run and bike until Thursday, then off.


Click here for a look at the in depth six-week plan.

Nick White co-wrote this article. A premier coach for Carmichael Training Systems, he coached Craig Alexander to Ironman World Championships in 2008 and 2009, as well as 2010 Ironman St. George winner Heather Wurtele. Chris Carmichael is the founder and head coach of CTS, the official coaching and camps partner of Ironman. Visit Trainright.com.

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