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How To Move Up in Distance From Olympic to 70.3

Feeling ready to go the half-iron distance? Read our complete guide on how to take the next step up.

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Let’s be honest: If you’ve done a triathlon (and even if you haven’t) you’ve probably heard of Ironman and Kona. It’s our Mt. Everest or our Boston Marathon—and it looms large. As you progress in the sport, it’s understandable for some athletes to be drawn to longer and longer distances. It’s also completely understandable if that’s not your goal and you’d rather go faster, or shorter, or try something new.

As a coach, I view it as my job to guide and help athletes achieve their goals, whatever those are. I believe that if you want to make the jump from a sprint to the Olympic-, half-, or iron-distance, then you should. Most of us are in this sport because we’re looking to push ourselves and step outside what’s comfortable. Challenging yourself is important (and worthy), but first make sure you’re excited about the journey—not just the destination—and that you’re able to balance your life with whatever your big goals are. Triathlon should fit into your life, not the other way around.

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How do you know if you’re ready to race a 70.3?

Well first—do you want to? My job as a coach is to look at my athletes’ goals, their time availability, and where they’re at right now. And then I make sure the motivation is truly there. If you’re happy doing sprint triathlons and that’s what you like to do, stick to that. But if you’re motivated to jump up to the 70.3 distance, then you should do it.

Whatever your goal, you need to begin by viewing it as a journey. Athletes who are able to commit to the process, rather than the outcome, perform better and tend to enjoy it more. You want to enjoy the event, too, so being prepared and executing well should be part of that plan.

RELATED: The Psychology of Setting Motivating and Satisfying Triathlon Goals

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Training guidelines for moving to half-Ironman distance

As you step up to the 70.3 distance, the margin for error is smaller—you’re out on the course for a long time. This takes more precision in terms of training volume, pacing, and particularly nutrition. I like to see my athletes have at least eight weeks of race prep, underpinned by a solid off-season or base. In this context, the ideal off-season base is 8-10 hours/week for 3-plus months; race prep and build is 10-13 hours/week for 6-8 weeks. As a guideline, during race prep: This includes key sessions of two 3,000-yard swims weekly, a long ride comfortably of 4 hours, and being able to run 90 minutes (which can include a walk-run strategy).

Training hours per week for a 70.3

Swim Bike Run total
Off-Season Base (3 months) 2-3 3-4 2-3 8-10
Race Prep (6-8 weeks) 2-3 6-7 3-4 10-13

RELATED: How Much Time Does it Take to Train for a Triathlon?

If you’re doing a 70.3 with little open-water experience, find a friend or a group and swim the race distance in open water. The pool is one thing, but people struggle in the open water environment because with waves and darkness below, it can be sensory overload in a stressful race environment. There’s also a big difference between being alone in a lane and having 1,000 other triathletes banging around you in the water. Having exposure to open water from a safety perspective is very important.

Also: When it comes to scheduling, it helps to really outline trips, work, and family commitments—and to get buy-in from those around you. The last eight weeks are hours-heavy, so if you can plan ahead, this helps relieve stress for both yourself and the key people in your life.

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Fueling guidelines for moving to 70.3

You can get away with a hodgepodge nutrition strategy for a shorter event, but once you start to extend beyond that, that becomes the limitation for most athletes—how much can you eat and how much can you truly absorb? Part of that is practice because you can train your gut. The main thing when you’re stepping up to anything over three hours is to treat the fourth discipline as fueling.

At the half- (and full) iron distance, energy availability is the main concern. Be sure pacing is appropriate and you’re eating enough for the demands of the event. Aim for 80-90 grams of carbohydrates per hour on the bike and 40-50 grams per hour on the run. I strictly speak in carbs, because although there are other schools of thought, that’s what you need to race.

RELATED: A Half-Ironman (70.3) Nutrition Plan

You should practice your strategy at least four times in the lead-up, during very specific pacing sessions. The adage of “no new things on race day” applies—prepare with what you plan to use on race day. The biggest mistake I see athletes make consistently is not eating enough and not practicing their nutrition strategy. This is true of my sub-4 and my 5-6 hour 70.3 athletes. I can almost guarantee they are under-fueling by about half in races. Just by fixing that alone, you can unlock huge amounts of potential.

See what your tolerance is starting at 60-70 grams of carbohydrate in training. In the race, stay diligent about eating on the bike because you can’t eat as much on the run. On the run, it’s kind of like whatever you can get in—which is OK if you’ve been on top of it on the bike.

RELATED: A Week-by-Week Performance Nutrition Guide for Long-Course Training

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Race day: Olympic vs. 70.3

Athletes use a plan to step up from Olympic to 70.3 triathlon
(Photo: Mustafa Ciftci/Getty Images)

Excitement is always highest at the beginning of a race, and even as a lifelong swimmer, I’ve started to hyperventilate and had to roll on my back at the start of a race. If you start to panic in the swim, roll over and catch your breath. Do some breaststroke and calm your mind and body, and then get through the swim.

Remember, it’s better to under-bike and run well and finish knowing next time you have more to give, rather than overcook yourself slightly on the bike only to suffer immensely on the run. Bike a little easier than you think you should, it will pay off on the run.

I’m OK if we get to the end of this race and we decide that you biked too easily. What usually happens is that athletes bike and run to potential (or closer to it). It’s easy to overestimate how much energy you have from miles zero to 10 on the bike because you feel fantastic. It’s delayed feedback—you don’t know you’re in trouble until it’s too late. You’re better off being patient early so you can make decisions later, rather than if you shoot all your shots early and your only decision is walking the last half of the day.

I want athletes to be able to make decisions on the run and not just survive. All the time loss and pain or regret or mistakes come from going too fast early and it always shows up on the run. If you’re walking—whether that’s a sprint or Ironman—it hurts the rest of your race.

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Sample Olympic-to-70.3 Workouts

Use these as key swim, bike, and run workouts as you prepare to move from the Olympic distance to a 70.3 . Then plot out the rest of your week around those key workouts.

Looking for more guidance? Check out our top 70.3 training plans:

Swim #1

Be able to hold a consistent pace as the intervals extend. I prefer longer intervals to mimic race demands, but if you’re very new to swimming you can break these up.

Warm-up

500, with choice of drills and toys
4 x 75 as 15 yards fast, then finish easy

Main set

3x:
[3 x 100 all slightly above race pace effort, 15-20 seconds rest
50 easy
300-400 strong race pace effort, 30 seconds rest
50 easy]

Cooldown

3 x 100-300 with buoy choice

Swim #2

Warm-up

500 as 6 x 75 descending 1-3 and 4-6, all on 10 seconds rest
300 build by 100

Main set

10 x 100 holding 70.3 race pace, 15 seconds rest
200 easy
5 x 100 holding 70.3 race pace -5 seconds per/100 yards, 30 seconds rest

Cooldown

500 as 6 x 75 descending 1-3 and 4-6, all on 10 seconds rest
300 build by 100

Bike Workout #1

Maintain power/speed in the back half. Stay comfortable in the saddle, and practice fueling.

Warm-up

30-45 mins. with a few openers and accelerations

Main set (with 75-90 mins. of work)

4 x 4 min at an 8/10 effort, with 4-5 mins.  between each
3 x 20 mins. building from slightly below 70.3 effort to the last 10 mins. at 70.3 effort.

(You can build these as you progress to 5 x 4 min to start and 3 x 30 min as you go on. You want to finish the last interval with reasonable energy and be able to maintain the effort. The important thing is to practice: Can you maintain this effort for 90 minutes? If the answer is no, then slow down.)

Cooldown

Easy 15-30 mins. for a total ride time around 4 hours

*Bonus: Run easy 20-30 mins. off the bike.

Bike Workout #2

The goal for this workout is to dial in 70.3 effort or wattage.

Warm-up

20 min at 50-65% FTP or RPE 5/6 out of 10

Main set (with 75-90 mins. of work)

3x
[40 min at 80-82% or RPE 7/8 (70.3 pace or wattage), 20 min at 70-72% or RPE 6/7]

The 40 min should be at 70.3 pace or wattage. If you’re going by heart rate, the 40 min should be at Zone 3 HR, the 20 min should be mid-Zone 2.

Cooldown

10 min easy

RELATED: How to Establish Triathlon Training Zones

Run Workout #1

Set up some fatigue, then run well in the back half.

Warm-up

40 mins. easy running

Main set

4 x 10 mins. at 70.3 effort, with 2 mins. between each

(A good proxy is your open marathon pace, but it needs to be controlled and sustainable. If you plan to use a walk-run strategy, practice it here, and be intentional. When you’re walking, walk hard.)

Cooldown

10 mins. easy

70.3 Brick Session

Run/Bike/Run:

Wake up at the same time you will on race day and practice race day breakfast. Start the workout at the time of the race start, allowing your body to have the same time to digest breakfast. Practice your race day fueling from start to finish.

Run #1 

6 miles–easy! 60-90 sec per mile slower than the goal run pace, heart rate at max Zone 2
Get right onto the bike when done.

Bike: 3 hours

The main set is 4 x 20 min starting at just below 70.3 pace/effort and adding to each one, so that #4 is above 70.3 effort.

Warm-up

30-40 min
6 x 30 sec hard/30 sec easy
15 min steady

Main set

4 x 20 min
#1 at 75%/RPE 7/HR mid-Z2
#2 add 5 watts or take up to RPE 7.5/Z3
#3 at 80% RPE 8/mid-Z3
#4 at 85% or RPE 8/2/high Z3/low Z4

5 min recovery between each

Cooldown

20 min easy

Run #2 right off the bike

2 miles 10-15 sec per mile below race pace
2 miles at goal 70.3 run pace
2 miles best effort

The average run pace is a good indicator of what you can hold off the bike.

  • Provided by coach Julie Dunkle of NYX Endurance.

RELATED: Triathlete’s Complete Guide to Training for a Half-Iron/70.3 Triathlon