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Coach Jim Vance’s 3 Keys to Tri Training Success, Plus More Q+A

Get a glimpse at some of coach Jim Vance's expert Q+A in the Team Triathlete community, where he covered everything from 70.3 training to how to become a better swimmer.

For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.

This past week in the Team Triathlete community, we had high performance and Olympic coach Jim Vance join us to answer any and all training questions, especially those about the 70.3 distance.

Any Triathlete or Outside+ member can access Team Triathlete for all the giveaways, swag, community, and expert Q&As, but to get all the benefits you’ll need to be a full Outside+ member. Outside+ members should also check out Coach Vance’s 10 Weeks to Your Best 70.3 plan, which guides you to your next 70.3 week-by-week, or his customizable programs they have access to in Today’s Plan.

Here’s this week’s roundup of the best questions for Coach Vance and what he had to say about reaching new heights in your athletic career. And join Team Triathlete for our next expert Q+A this Thursday, Feb. 10 with sports nutrition expert Colette Vartanian

RELATED: Want Training Plans, Expert Q&As, Race Perks, and A Unique Community? Join Team Triathlete

Coach Jim Vance Answers Your Tri Training Questions

Q: I feel age group athletes sometimes pay too much attention to what the pros do and overcomplicate triathlon training. If you had to boil down the keys to successful training and performance for age groupers, what would be your top 3-4 tips? – Manny M. 

A: My top three keys:

  • Get out of a seven-day training cycle. Move to a 14- or 21-day cycle, so you can stop trying to cram tons of key sessions into one week. That often leads to burnout and injury. Professional triathletes I coach aren’t on seven-day cycles. We take our time and spread out the key sessions so that they are successful each time.
  • Don’t train by peer pressure. Find what you need to work on and do that. Whether that’s easy, aerobic efforts or recovery jogs or rides, do them by yourself if your friends prefer to push the pace. Plan workouts that meet your needs, not just workouts that replicate what everyone else is doing.
  • Be patient. Don’t try to jump right into a big training load. Instead, progress your overall work and the specific workouts you’re doing. If you want to be able to do 10x400m on the track, the first workout to get there should be 5×400, then 6,7,8×400. Too many people start right at 10 and injure themselves or are disappointed they couldn’t perform something they weren’t prepared to do, making the session unsuccessful. Set yourself up for success in each workout.

RELATED: Don’t Let Social Pressure Change the Way You Train

Q: In regards to your 10-week 70.3 course and training plan, is it possible to move the days around or is the structure important? – Joshua I. 

A: You are free to move things around, certainly. But be sure to set yourself up for success; don’t cram all the quality sessions (such as long bricks, rides, or runs) into one-to-two days one right after the other. 

Q: Is it possible to improve my swim without getting a coach or joining a team? I was able to cut some time off my swim and would love to improve more, but feel like I’ve hit a plateau. – Natasha

A: It is most certainly possible to improve without getting a coach or joining a swim club, such as Masters or similar. The key is knowing and understanding what it is you need to work on in the water. Finding a good local coach who can do a video analysis and work with you for a single session is worth the investment. Otherwise, you’re just continuing to ingrain bad technique habits. When a coach is on deck, you get more consistent reminders and evaluation. 

RELATED: A Complete Guide to Triathlon Swimming

Q: Can you tell us more about the run/walk process? How do you test to see if it’s faster overall than running in a race? – Dave K. 

A: It’s not really about when you race, as I have almost all my athletes run continuously in a race unless it is an Ironman, and then we look at how likely they are to run the whole thing. Run/walk is more of a training approach. My athletes seldom do a continuous run over 30 minutes in training. Walk breaks allow your heart rate to come down and allow the supportive skeletal tissue (especially around the ankles) to recover. This allows you to reduce the training injury risk. 

I used to think run/walk was nonsense. Then when I got out of shape, I kept injuring myself when trying to return to training. One time I decided to try the run/walk method, and suddenly I was not only uninjured, but I was feeling good. Then, my consistency greatly improved and I saw the benefit of better training and performance. I started using run/walk with my athletes and 90% of the injuries I used to see in my athletes suddenly disappeared. I’ve been a believer ever since and have a lot of healthy athletes who can attest to the run/walk method in training, even at the highest level.

RELATED: The Run-Walk Philosophy